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iPhone Web Apps versus Native Apps

Elisabeth Ronson from O’Reilly just started a new webinar class today through creativetechs.com, called “Learn to Build iPhone Web Apps.

It’s not too late to sign up, it’s a 2 hour webinar every Tuesday at 11am PST. Viewing the webinar is free, and the course videos can be purchased at a nice price if you are enrolled now. Find more info here. The first class was today, but that was more an overview, so you could easily jump in on the next session.

One thing that Elisabeth touched on that I think needs more amplification is the question “When should I consider a Web App, and when must I build my App natively?” It turns out that for many types of informational apps, a Web App makes a whole lot of sense, and few people realize just how powerful the iPhone browser is. ¬† So many people who want iPhone apps for their businesses or services could actually get by very nicely with a well-written Web App, it’s just that there isn’t much awareness of that option, and there aren’t a lot of designers who are savvy about Safari’s Webkit/HTML5 features.

You *can* build a web app that:

  • Has a tab bar interface to separate sections of the app.
  • Can play video.
  • Can use the accelerometer.
  • Can accept simple gestures, like a swipe.
  • Can animate UI display and interaction (acceleration, crossfades, etc.)

You *must* build a native app if your app:

  • Needs to be able to run standalone without a data connection.
  • Uses the iPhone camera for stills or video.
  • Is intended to be sold on the App Store, and/or has additional content you want to offer through the App Store.
  • Requires more sophisticated animation than WebKit provides, or uses OpenGL.
  • Has complex gesture interactions.

If your app can be done as a web app instead of a native app, you get some immediate benefits:

  • You don’t need an Apple developer’s account to develop your app.
  • You don’t have to go through the app store approval process to publish your app.
  • You don’t have to go through the app store approval process to update your app.
  • Apple is not going to stop offering your app.
  • You have a very wide range of CSS/HTML tools to choose from to do your development, and a large base of people who know CSS.
  • You can push changes to your content, pages, etc. in real time.
  • May also run on other WebKit mobile devices. ¬†Note that Palm, Android, certain Nokia phones, and certain Blackberries all have Webkit browsers.

More on this subject as the class goes on.

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