Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The future of mobile apps

One thing that strikes me at the moment is how fragmented the mobile devices market is. Currently there are five major platforms competing (Apple iOS, Android, Nokia Symbian, Windows Mobile and Blackberry) along with a couple of smaller players, and it's not clear that any of them are going to emerge victorious in the way that Microsoft did in the desktop computing space in the 90s.
This is a problem for app developers, who currently need to port their software to all of these different incompatible operating systems, which is a costly and time-consuming process. Because of this, we are beginning to see cross-platform application frameworks such as PhoneGap, which allow developers to build what are essentially web apps, then run them as if they were native apps on the various different devices with access to the phone's storage, offline access and so on.
For developers, this is a very appealing way of doing things, especially since it requires the same tools (HTML5, CSS and Javascript) that web developers know anyway.
So my belief is that we are not going to see a single platform become dominant in the mobile market, which has to be a good thing as none will be able to choke off innovation as happened for a while in the desktop arena. What we will see is that apps start being built on a common platform, namely HTML5.
If I'm right on this, the company to watch is HP. HP acquired Palm in 2010, and with it the webOS operating system for mobile devices. What's unique about webOS is that it is in effect a big web browser, and all of it's apps are written using web technologies. So which platform might be best placed to take advantage of a shift in app development to these technologies?
Maybe we need to add a sixth major player to the list...