The Mobile Web vs. the Objective-C Web

The central theme of Mobile Web Design was carefully and thoughtfully built on the assumption that the browser will always provide the most consistent, reliable medium for users of web content, and the most open and sustainable platform for developers of the same—all thanks to HTML, CSS, and web standards.

Additionally, I argued that “smart clients” (lightweight apps installed on a device whose content is primarily fed by and stored in the cloud) would and should remain secondary to providing the same experience in the browser, again for the reasons mentioned above.

Since the release of iPhone and now with the release of iPad, I’ve gradually found myself questioning more and more the assumption I made. Apple has consistently proven that holistically controlling the entire user experience—inclusive of hardware to software and everything in between—has the potential to yield a more pleasant experience overall. Think of Mac OS + Mac, iPhone OS + iPhone, and now iPhone OS + iPad.

At one point in time, J2ME (now Java ME) and WAP were the starting points for a discussion on mobile strategy and the web. Then, for a brief period of time, you talked about HTML/CSS. Now, for a growing majority of mobile strategies that don’t require a global presence on widely varying devices, the discussion begins with iPhone. Smart client is now iPhone app, and in many cases, the app is primary to the experience, not secondary to the browser. And iPad app may soon replace iPhone app as the starting point.

Frankly, as the adoption rate of iPhone increases and if iPad follows suit, it will become increasingly difficult to argue in favor of a starting point other than iPhone OS. The NPR iPad app, for one, provides a much more pleasant user experience than NPR.org.

I have to admit I’m a bit concerned with this trend and don’t entirely expect us all to be writing Objective-C in place of HTML/CSS in the future. After all, HTML5 and CSS3 offer some incredible capabilities akin to the smart client experience.

Or maybe I’m fooling myself. Again.

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