Online discussions in the iPhone development landscape over the past few weeks have centered on the maturity of the Web as an alternative to native development and the nightmare that is the AppStore. Neven Mrgan released Pie Guy, a Pac-Man like game that serves an excellent example of what is possible with the Web for game developers. The Web only Showtime allows you to see when your favorite TV shows air next. Both of these are great applications, but they miss the mark for a few reasons.
When Robert Andersen and I collaborated on PocketTweets back in 2007, the Web was the only platform available for development. As native clients like Birdfeed, Tweetie and Twitterrific became available, development of PocketTweets stopped as the native variants were so great.
John Gruber opines:
There is no way anyone could write an iPhone web app that works as well or feels as good as any of the top native iPhone Twitter clients. You can make an iPhone Twitter client as a web app. You can even make a good one. In fact, Dean Robinson did – it’s called Hahlo. It’s a good iPhone Twitter client. It’s a web app. It’s also slower, less graceful, and less useful than any of the popular native iPhone Twitter clients.
I believe that with the current crop of Web technologies available in MobileSafari, apps like Hahlo, PocketTweets and Showtime could thrive as an alternative to their native counterparts if Apple allowed developers to adjust the scrolling/drag coefficient of Mobile WebKit. If you compare the scrolling speed of your Twitter timeline in Hahlo and Tweetie, the results are drastically difference. Tweetie feels like it effortlessly scrolls based on how much momentum you exert in the scroll action, while Hahlo is being constrained by a fifty pound weight on its back.
Fixing scrolling performance obviously won’t open up Web apps to be viable alternatives to every type of application on the phone. Those that require access to contacts, music and other device specific resources are still left in the dark. But, Web apps could be legitimate contenders in the realm of social or cloud based applications like Twitter, Facebook and more.
HTML5 and AppCache have unlocked a world of potential and possibilities outside of Apple’s draconian platform. This is the stuff I wished we had two years ago when PocketTweets was under development. Mobile apps are not there just yet, but it’s close.