Archive for February 2012
Technology is always on a forward march. Mobile app development depends mostly on user demands and popularity. However, there are hardly any aspects of life left, which has not been the inspiration for the development of some genius mobile app.
One challenge developers face is deciding which operating system to target and whether to build native apps or HTML5 multi-platform apps. There are tools and frameworks out there that allow developers to build apps once but run them on many operating systems. Another challenge is Android itself, as developers are working with various Android versions like Honeycomb or Gingerbread, whereas for iOS, most are developing on the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.
One of the biggest changes we will see soon: mobile will no longer be a feature, but rather an expectation. For example, a few years ago it was pretty cool that you could order something through the Internet. Now any company would be strange not to offer that service. Also, a few years ago, it was cool that you could order something like sports tickets on your phone and then use your phone to check in at the gate. Over the next year or so, it will be strange of any company to not offer this service.
As technologies improve, our expectations improve as well. Would you buy a new car that does not have keyless entry? No, and you’d probably get the dealership to throw it in as a free upgrade, along with an iPod compatible sound system, GPS, heated seats, and lots of other things that were once “luxury features” but now come standard on most vehicles. As mobile app development increases, our expectations for mobile integration will increase as well. Will you buy a new car that doesn’t sync its diagnostics to your phone? Can you automatically track gas mileage, tire wear, performance, and time since your last oil change? These will become expectations, rather than bonus features.
But not just for cars either. If you are buying a new furnace or thermostat, will you buy the basic one, or the one that can be temperature controlled through your mobile application to save money? Does your fridge know when you are low on milk? Does your home know when you left the lights on, the oven cooking, or the garage door open?
With the technologies we have readily available (you can buy them at almost any home improvement store, electronics store, or big box store), it is fairly easy to make such things happen. However they are still considered “luxury features” because they are not entirely prepackaged.
Over the next few years, consumer expectations will demand mobile integration to the point that it won’t be wise for a company not to offer.
Mobile apps and HTML5 are two of the hottest technologies right now, and there’s plenty of overlap. Web apps run in mobile browsers and can also be re-packaged as native apps on the various mobile platforms. With the wide range of platforms to support, combined with the sheer power of mobile browsers, developers are turning to HTML5 as a “write one, run many” solution. But is it really viable? There are still compelling reasons to go native, and clearly, many developers are indeed going that route.
1. We can divide mobile functionality into two dimensions: the experience of the app itself, and the way it hooks into the device’s ecosystem, e.g. for Android, this would be features like widgets and notifications. In terms of app experience, native apps can do more.
2. It’s true that many in-app features are simply beyond reach for an HTML5 app. No matter how hot your web skills are, if your app is stuck in a sandbox with no camera API, it won’t be taking snaps anytime soon! Making a hybrid – native plus web – app is hardly an ideal solution. It adds complexity and applies only to web apps wrapped as native apps, rather than traditional websites accessed from a mobile browser. But it mightn’t be necessary for long. Web standards are evolving rapidly, and modern mobile browsers are keeping pace. Offline storage, geolocation, canvas graphics, and video/audio playback all enjoy widespread support among modern smarpthones, for example. Even camera is starting to be supported — as of Android 3.1, it’s possible to capture photos and videos using web standards. And the latest iOS browser supports WebSocket for 2-way streaming, as well as device orientation detection.
Overall, mobile is evolving. But the web is also evolving, and fast. Among desktop browsers alone, there are five major browser vendors evolving standards and adding features at lightning pace. While it’s not a trivial process to port these features to mobile, many of them have already made their way into the mobile browsers.
Native is a fast-moving target, but the web is closing the gap.
3. Native apps use robust programming languages (e.g. Java, Objective C, C++) which were designed for complex application development and have a proven track record. The APIs were designed ground-up to support the platform at hand. You can easily debug apps in desktop emulators which provide a close representation of the target device.
What makes web development particularly troublesome is the huge diversity of browsers and runtimes. When your app runs, it’s no guarantee feature X will be available. And even if it is, how will the browser implement it? Standards are open to interpretation. On the other hand Web is often easier to develop, especially if targeting multiple devices.
4. One of the defining features of any platform is its look and feel. Users come to expect controls to be presented consistently and manipulated in the same way. There are certain idioms which vary from platform to platform, e.g. what happens when the user performs a “long hold” (keep touching an element for several seconds)? Platforms have standard idioms for such things, and you can’t satisfy them all with a single HTML5 app.
Furthermore, platform look-and-feel is orchestrated by the platform’s native software library, whose widgets encapsulate the kind of look and feel users expect. You get a lot of the expected look-and-feel “for free” just by using the native toolkit.
5. App distribution mechanisms, like Android’s Market and Apple’s App Store, have been overwhelmingly popular in recent years and are a major driving force for the entire mobile industry. Any developer can submit their native app to the marketplace, where users can discover it through a combination of browsing, searching, and getting recommendations. Not only that, but if you’ve done your job right, the glowing ratings and comments will convince users to hit the all-important install button.
It would be nice to declare a winner here, but right now, there is no clear winner. Some apps are best suited for native and some are best suited for the web. The web stack arguably has more momentum, but in terms of capabilities and execution qualities, native apps are moving fast too. And unless there comes a time when web technologies are a first-class citizen on the majority of mobile OSs, native will always be an important consideration.
With the start of 2012, there are some strong trends that are changing the game industry in a big way. We take a look at some of them and what to expect.
Smartphones and tablets are changing the portable gaming market in a big way. Although most games on iOS and Android are smaller experiences than say Uncharted on the PSP (or the newly released PS Vita or 3DS), there is no doubt that games on the iOS and Android ecosystems are exploding in terms of development support, user base, and revenue coming into 2012. Smartphones and tablets are offering ways for smaller and indie developers to get noticed and sell their game to potentially millions without needing a huge budget or marketing campaign. Expect a lot more Android tablets and continued strong sales of the iPad to push games on larger 5-11″ screens. As Android devices are now pushing 720p resolutions, expect Apple to not lag behind in this area too much longer. Market share for Android devices sky rocketed in 2011, and we expect the Google OS to grab even more of the market in 2012. This means more developer support from game developers.
Say hello to the PlayStation Vita. 2012 will usher in a lot more power to handhelds with the release of Sony’s true successor to the original PSP. The big question though remains…. Are gamers really interested in that much power in a handheld, or will the 3DS at a much lower price outpace Sony’s latest offerings like it did with the DS? There seems to be a big push as mentioned previously that the mobile market is garnering a lot of attention from developers and gamers alike. Is the PS Vita going to take the gaming world by storm, or will it lose market share to devices like the iPhone and Android devices… Time will tell. What we can expect though is Sony pushing the PS Vita hard to gamers and developers. A price cut might be needed though to get it the market penetration they are seeking.
Different ways of interacting with video games will also take center stage in 2012. Kinect is coming to PCs, and others like Apple with Siri are taking voice controls first offered from Kinect seriously. The industry clearly is heading into a direction towards different ways of playing and interacting with games and media. Expect this to continue in 2012 with several companies offering competing technologies that offer the gamer and content consumer ways to get immersed into digital content.
All in all, expect a lot of focus and attention towards the mobile sector for the game industry. I think it’s safe to say we will see a lot of competing products fail, and a few moving forward taking the spoils of war. Also we should continue to see voice integration as well as motion controls make a big push in 2012.