2008 in review: iPhone apps

Content developed exclusively for the iPhone helped web publishers rethink content display beyond the desktop browser. Reimagining web content for small screens with bandwidth, latency, and interaction constraints provided publishers with an introduction to widget concepts and a broader web strategy. The potential audience of an iPhone web application shows up directly in website server logs, providing direct and actionable data in ways other widget options such as MySpace or Vista gadgets just can’t match. The iPhone also provides access to a relatively affluent user base capable of paying $200 for a new handset and at least $70 a month in service fees. I expect more web companies in the United States will develop specialized content for high-end mobile handsets in 2009. The recent launch of BlackBerry OS 4.0 from Research in Motion and Android on HTC may spark new interest for publishers interested in business or youth usage respectively.

Web app vs. native app

AP News iPhone application

iPhone web applications now have access to home screen icons, full-screen view areas, database storage, hardware-accelerated transitions, and a larger file cache in iPhone OS 2.0. Web development teams with experience in HTML, CSS, JavaScript will need to upgrade their understanding of current HTML 5, CSS 3, and other features present in a modern, stable browser platform but these new skills are also applicable to the main business of running a website. The shared mobile WebKit base of iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry also allows some code reuse between mobile platforms.

Urbanspoon iPhone restaurant selection screen

iPhone native applications are written in Objective-C, compiled, and distributed primarily through Apple’s iTunes App Store. Native applications have access to native Apple libraries including the user’s current location, address book, and even Bonjour networking. Websites such as Urbanspoon, Pandora, and SmugMug have captured a new class of users in the mobile space through their native iPhone apps.

Summary

I hope to see a lot more iPhone web applications in 2009 as web publishers leverage the skill sets of their existing web development teams. I expect many contracted native applications will go stale as the iPhone OS continues to upgrade, evidenced by a shift to push notifications, and web publishers separate platform flirtations with long-term interest. The iPhone has ignited new enthusiasm for mobile development in the United States which may carry over to BlackBerry and Android handsets in 2009.

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Commentary on "2008 in review: iPhone apps":

  1. Chuck Sacco on wrote:

    Niall,
    Great post.  With the rush to develop device-specific apps in order to gain distribution, a lot of long-term issues will arise such as the need to maintain those applications with each device generation.

    Device apps are the fashion show right now, but web apps are the right long-term play. In fact, device-specific developers may be wise in forging relationships now with companies that specialize in web apps so they can “future proof” their businesses.

  2. Steve Trefethen on wrote:

    I suspect the App Store will continue to see applications flood in for awhile although it’s reaching the point where wading through it’s hard to find new applications that are good. Apple has a challenge on it’s hands to weed out the chaff and let not only popular applications flourish but well written non-games as well.Also, you didn’t really mention the iPod Touch which with the economy sinking I can imagine it being increasingly favored over an expensive AT&T plan.