is it a (mobile) format war?

The deeper I go the worse it gets. I start the year positive about mobile development but now look what’s happened. So, application environments – download vs. browser on mobile.

Is it the same as on desktop? If so, then browser should already have won..

We see far more use of web-based applications for new services today than we do people downloading and installing. Assuming that the benefits are roughly the same, i.e. faster time to market and easy to fix/update/add new features then the browser should have won as well.

But it hasn’t. Mobile applications are still being developed, J2ME, Symbian and now iPhone. Why is this?

Essentially the mobile *browser* development model is nearly as broken as the application model. I can develop a mobile site in XHTML still with not much of an idea if it’s going to work on many phones – or if it does, with not much of an idea if it’s going to look any good.

A developer can’t be sure of which CSS properties exist – or whether CSS is supported at all. Worse, with a simple page or tag change I can cause my page to be rejected completely by any number of phones. Coming back to phone with a huge installed base, say a RAZR V3, the browser rendering is really a lowest common denominator affair.

In the face of this, I can understand why some developers choose a downloadable app. But people just can’t use it. And it’s even worse than that. You’ve paid (your own developers or an agency) to build the thing, you’ve paid to promote it, and then when your hard earned punters try to use your mobile app it just fails. They never try again and they probably tell their friends how rubbish you are.

In the face of this, it’s a wonder that anyone develops on mobile at all..

But what of the iPhone? How about Android? A lot of press and still no solution to this problem. Unless everyone in the world buys an iPhone. Or an Android.

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