Before I start I should be clear that nothing I’m about to say is an official Microsoft comment or Microsoft views. It’s just my musings. I’m taking off my Microsoft hat for the time being.
It’s interesting to me to see the rise of apps (do we have to abbreviate them? Why not “applications”? Perhaps that’s another story) and how they compare to websites. Or, I suppose more accurately, I’m talking about information and functionality being delivered via an app as opposed to a website. The important point here is that while we tend to think of apps and the web as separate things, they are in fact fairly similar in terms of what they do from the user’s point of view. What I mean is that the end result is the same – that is, that they deliver some discrete value to you. They just go about it in different ways.
Now I’m sure everyone is pretty clear on what an app is, and what a website is, so bear with me for a bit because I still think it’s worth being really clear on the difference. As we all know an app – eg on a phone, or a tablet, or a PC – works like this (forgive the oversimplification): The developer writes the code, compiles it up, and it gets delivered to the target device, usually via some kind of store. When you launch the app it loads in its entirety and executes on the device, making calls across the network as required. It also interacts with the device eg using the camera, or responding to touch or mouse events, etc.
Why does any of this matter? Because we have become used to thinking in terms of apps and websites as if they are completely separate things that present themselves to us in a very different way. However as HTML5 becomes more sophisticated, and internet access becomes faster and more ubiquitous we are likely to see a significant blurring of the app/website difference.
Today, there are clear advantages to both approaches:
- Apps can run offline, and may be able to make better use of features inherent to the device they’re running on
- Websites (or perhaps more accurately web-apps) are always up to date, and only need to be written once and deployed to multiple device types. So I can access the pulse.me site on a range of devices and get a similar experience. No store required. The developers don’t need to build separate apps for different platforms. But of course I need a good, constant internet connection to use them and they might not be able to take full advantage of the hardware they’re running on – well not yet, but as HTML5 continues to develop we’ll see hardware capabilities becoming increasingly accessible to web apps. The use of touch and gestures on pulse.me is an example.
I don’t know if this is the way things are going to go. Will we see a gradual drop-off in apps over the next few years and a move towards web-apps? Or are apps here to stay for the long term?
I’d love to hear your opinions.