A couple of years ago I remember reading in the technology press about how desktop software was dead, and that the web was the future. Skip forward to today and I still hear the same thing, only with the word ‘web’ replaced with ‘cloud’ – cloud being a buzzword, simply meaning some server, somewhere.
I liked that promise, in a world where Microsoft Outlook takes about 10 times longer than the combination of Google Chrome and Gmail to load, web based software certainly seems to me to be the future. So I was surprised today when I discovered that the BBC is launching some new pieces of client software for mobile phones. These days, all the major web sites have their own ‘app’ – The Guardian, RadioTimes, WordPress, even the White House to name just a few examples – yet nearly all of those apps could work just fine in the web browser. Does this mean the web application is dead? I pondered this, and came to the conclusion that no, web apps aren’t dead. The fact that The Guardian and The Whitehouse haven’t released an application for Windows or MacOSX tells me that this is just a mobile thing, and that installable applications are perhaps easier to use than web sites, with their caching, gestures and smooth animations. The BBC’s applications will feature high-quality flash, something Apple don’t allow inside the iPhone’s web browser so that’s probably their reasoning. Installable applications (on the iPhone in particular) create a desktop presence, you can bet that people who’ve installed The Guardian’s app visit The Guardian more often that those who have a bookmark buried away somewhere, or type the address manually, so there is added benefit to the content provider. Of course, as the Windows Quick Launch area taught us, too much branding on the desktop can get annoying, so maybe it is a fad after all, and we’ll all be using web based mobile apps in 2 years time?