Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mobile vs. Native

I just wanted to comment on Ray C. Morgan's JSConf 2011 talk about web vs. native when it comes to mobile apps.

He started off his talk with a 15 minutes Objective-C lesson, which probably threw pretty much everyone off, but it was perfect for me. I recently had a client ask me to convert a mobile web app I had developed for them to a native applications, so I was knee deep in Objective-C. The talk really hit on a lot of things I had been thinking about and I'd like to re-iterate some of his points and then take issue with a few others.

Building Native Apps is Not that Hard

This maybe more than anything stuck out to me as I was learning Objective-C at the moment, because as a web programmer trying to learn how to do native iPhone apps, I could pretty much see where he was coming from. It's not impossible to learn Objective-C, and your apps are going to have some instant speed benefits as well as feel like native apps. People are used to these and if you're building apps you shouldn't assume that you can't do native even if you don't know how to do it yet. My experience with Android tells me pretty much the same things. It's definitely possible, even for us web-devs.

Build web pages in semantic HTML

While he kept saying "remember the good ol' days of semantic html?", and I think most people were thinking, no actually, we're still getting there. I think his point was pretty valid. If you're building a website, mobile or not, start with HTML, not a super fancy fake mobile framework. People expect web pages to act like webpages, so think about your mobile website the same way. It's not a mobile application, it's a web page. This gives you the best likelihood of your site being able to work on multiple mobile platforms and for the most part lets you take advantage of what you already know. Even media queries can be used really effectively in a lot of situations. Again, think about what people are doing with your site and what you're trying to accomplish.

Missing from his talk: Use fancy frameworks for prototyping

If you're a web developer and you want to do a proof of concept of a mobile application before you invest heavily in learning native language, use something like Sencha Touch to build it. It will look pretty native and give you a good idea if it's worth building. This is basically what happened to me, when I initially decided to build a Sencha Touch app for a client, who had an iPhone 3GS. The app is great and usable, but ultimately we decided to make it native. I could never have gotten so far along without starting the JavaScript framework, so I highly recommend using them as a prototyping tool.

Overall, I loved his talk and appreciated some of the points that were brought up. Yay for JSConf. Hopefully, I'll get around to posting more re-caps like this soon!

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