By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, August 10, 2011 at 12:44 pm
iPhone to Support Third-Party Web 2.0 Applications
Innovative New Way to Create Applications for iPhone
WWDC 2007, SAN FRANCISCO—June 11, 2007—Apple® today announced that its revolutionary iPhone™ will run applications created with Web 2.0 Internet standards when it begins shipping on June 29. Developers can create Web 2.0 applications which look and behave just like the applications built into iPhone, and which can seamlessly access iPhone’s services, including making a phone call, sending an email and displaying a location in Google Maps. Third-party applications created using Web 2.0 standards can extend iPhone’s capabilities without compromising its reliability or security.
“Developers and users alike are going to be very surprised and pleased at how great these applications look and work on iPhone,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Our innovative approach, using Web 2.0-based standards, lets developers create amazing new applications while keeping the iPhone secure and reliable.”
Doesn’t that feel like a press release from another era? It is.
As everyone who knows anything about the iPhone and iPad knows, developers and users turned out not to be that surprised or pleased by Web apps running in Safari. But when Apple opened up its mobile operating system to true third-party apps in 2008, it set off an explosion of enthusiasm that hasn’t stopped.
There have always been some excellent Web apps for iOS–Google’s ambitious versions of Gmail for the iPhone and iPad spring to mind–but the vast majority of companies that have attempted to build something great for iOS have chosen the flexibility, power, and responsiveness of native apps over the open standards and cloud-based capabilities of Web apps. Which makes this week a notable one for iOS Web apps.
Today, Amazon.com released Kindle Cloud Reader, a browser-based version of its e-reader that works in Safari on the iPad (and Safari and Chrome on Windows PCs and Macs). It give you access to all the Kindle books you’ve bought, has a similar look and feel as the Kindle app, and includes a built-in version of the Kindle bookstore. (Amazon’s iOS Kindle apps deal with Apple’s new rules for in-app purchasing by serving only as readers, not online bookstores.) Cloud Reader’s arrival comes a day after movie-streaming service Vudu launched an entirely browser-based version which can deliver movies to the iPad, no app required.
(Full disclosure: My wife has done work for Vudu in the past.)
The Amazon and Vudu Web apps are impressive. They look slick, and they do things that I wasn’t entirely sure could be done on an iPad sans native app at all. And while I use plenty of nifty native iOS apps that follow Apple’s rules and regulations, I’m very pleased to see evidence that it’s possible to deliver content to an iPad without Apple serving as a rulemaker/gatekeeper/tolltaker.
Even so, these Web apps also show why the age of the native app is far from over, despite what some folks (such as, oh, Nokia execs) may maintain. Kindle Cloud Reader lets you read books you’ve bought directly from the Internet, or “pin” them to your iPad so they get download and stored locally, letting you read without an Internet connection. Pretty neat. But even when I read books that are on my iPad, there’s a distracting pause (with spinning “please wait” animation) every few page turns. And when you flip pages or pull up the toolbar of additional options, it’s sluggish compared to the zippy native app. Except for the built-in book buying experience–which is nice but not a necessity–Cloud Reader feels like it’s around 80 percent as good as the native iPad app. (Having tried it, I’m going to cheerfully go back to the native Kindle reader.)
Vudu video, meanwhile, streamed beautifully to my iPad over Wi-Fi and looked and sounded good, even though it’s standard definition rather than Vudu’s signature HDX extra-high-quality HD. The only major gotcha I found was that I had to give Vudu my credit-card details. Billing consumers directly from a Web app rather than using Apple’s in-app purchase system saves Vudu the commission it would have to pay Apple, but makes buying and renting movies slightly more complicated, at least the first time you do it. I don’t think that people who love getting movies from iTunes will abandon it for iPad Vudu, but Vudu fans should be pleased. And I hope that Amazon is working on something similar for its video on demand service.
These apps may be imperfect, but they still got me excited. I hope they get other developers excited, too–and that Apple makes iOS Safari better and better, so that tomorrow’s Web apps can be at least as polished as native iOS ones. A cynic might conclude that Apple has no incentive to improve Safari to the point that it’s easy for third parties to avoid the App Store; I prefer to think that competition from Android and other alternatives will lead Apple do redouble efforts to make Safari the best, most powerful mobile browser on the planet–which would make iOS the best platform for both native apps and Web apps.