Are Web Apps the Future of Apps?

John Gruber wrote an interesting article on Daring Fireball last week about iPhone web apps as an alternative to the App Store. Gruber starts by quoting Peter-Paul Koch who thinks that developers should just bypass the App Store by creating web apps instead of native apps:

In order to release an iPhone application without having to submit it to Apple’s insane App Store process, developers could just use Web technologies and create Web apps instead of native apps.

The main benefit of creating a web app is that you don’t have to deal with Apple and you can make your app do whatever you want. The main downside though is that a web app doesn’t have access to core functionalities of the iPhone. For example, the mobile version of Flickr can’t access your photo library, making it impossible to upload images to the site.

It’s funny because when the iPhone came out, Apple had a directory of web apps on its site. It seemed at the time that Apple saw web apps as a great addition to the iPhone experience. Then the jailbreakers came in and started creating third-party applications, which changed the game forever.

That’s at this time that Apple realized that they should allow developers to create native apps. I can’t find the article but I clearly remember reading something quoting Steve Jobs or Phil Schiller saying that the App Store was kind of an accident, that Apple never really intended to let developers create apps for the iPhone.

When they saw how successful the jailbreak community was, Apple quickly woke up, worked on an official SDK and created the business model that is the App Store we know today.

Along the way, Apple quietly ended the promotion of web apps because they figured that web apps don’t make money, and that they’d be better off selling apps and getting a cut of each sale rather than not getting anything at all.

Google’s take on it is simple: web apps are the future of applications! You can tell that Google put much effort into web apps and deliberately left native apps aside. For example, there is no native Gmail app. However, the Gmail web app for iPhone is nothing short of amazing. Same for the Google Voice web app.

I do believe that web apps are the future of applications for most mobile platforms out there. Unfortunately, I also believe that Apple will not let that happen on its turf. They have too much to lose. The App Store machine is on a roll and nothing can really stop it now.

While Google embraces openness, Apple cherishes its closed platform. Both companies have different objectives and it’s fine because there is plenty of room for multiple players out there.