Mobile Web Apps: The End of App Stores?

January 28th 2010

Earlier this week Google released Google Voice as a web application. It’s a toned down version of the application that originally got submitted to the App Store but stirred controversy.

If you never heard of it before, the application got pulled down from the App Store for “unknown” reasons, Google complained to the FCC, then Apple said they were investigating the app. Someone somewhere obviously doesn’t want that app on the iPhone.

What they did this week is a straight hit in Apple’s face,. They modified their original App to be available as a web app, so unless Apple block access to the Google Voice website, there’s really nothing they can do about it and that’s a good thing.

Mobile Browsers are really powerful.

Mobile Safari is part of why Google has been able to release Voice as a web app. This browser really is quite powerful, it supports advanced HTML5, CSS3 and the JavaScript performance is impressive.

This got me thinking about the relevance of developing an App for the App Store. It’s true that the browser can’t access some core features like the camera or the gps, but some apps could actually be quite easily converted to a browser based equivalent. Just think about website specific apps that really are only RSS readers (Engadget,TUAW,CyberPresse), notes apps, even Instapaper could be converted using Safari client-side database.


It’s true the App Store can potentially give you a lot of visibility, but the truth is that with over 140 000 apps yours can easily be far down the list. As if you publish it as a web app you can actually promote it not only for the iPhone but for many more platforms as it is browser based.

Open is epic win

Developing a web app aimed at the iPhone makes a lot of sense, you don’t have to go through the approval process when you launch or when you want to update your app. Your market could also be a lot broader as the app could be easily adapted for Android and Pre, much easier than re-coding the equivalent in their native language.

You can even add web pages to your home screen on the iPhone so it feels more like an app from the App store.

Cost $$$

Last time I checked there were not many people in my area developing for the iPhone, while there were plenty of web developer. It would be a lot easier to maintain and to find support in the event you lose one of your programmer. And as with everything, if demand is up, prices will follow so an Objective C programmer ain’t cheap.

Bottom line

If I had to develop and app for the iPhone today, I’d strongly consider the web app avenue unless the app rely on core features that are only available in the iPhone SDK.

What’s your view?

28 Responses to “Mobile Web Apps: The End of App Stores?”

  1. Cedric Dugas says:


    As far as I am concern, the only thing really missing from mobile web app is the push notification system.

  2. Brent says:

    (in agreement) With the use of HTML5, JS and CSS3 technologies, Web Applications definitely provide a easy cross platform reach to mobile users. Another upcoming technology that is interesting (and similar I think) is mobile widgets. Using web technologies while providing “native app” functionality (gps info, accelerometer info, etc) based on an open W3C standard and a universal API, they do sound like the holy grail.

    Most platforms are in beta and mostly in Europe/Asia. Though there are other more local companies like RIM (and others) are engaging in that for their devices. I know RIM has integrated their Push/Pull technology as well.

    Though… in reality developing is still a real pain, and the universal implementation is still not quite… well, universal. 🙂

  3. Walter says:

    Totally agreed. Web apps is the wave of the future. Push notification could actually be done with one approved app that does push/pull with xml based data that will enable unlimited webapps.
    PS: loved your prettyMobile photo view it is just the way I intended to write it myself using jquery. Thanks for saving me the time! Whenever I start making some money with coding again, I’ll definitely donate!

  4. Jon says:

    There is a lot of truth to that. Meebo was a popular web app for me before they released an application for it. The only thing I think the app store has some relevance for those who use the iPod touches. While it’s possible for the iTouch to access web apps in wifi hot spots, they’ll still be out of reach when out of web hot spots.

    However, I believe with the way technology is going, internet access may just be available everywhere you go in the near future.

    But I certainly agree with the versatility and limitless possibilities of developing a web app.

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  6. Steve Antal says:

    I totally agree with your view, I tested prettyMobile on my Android-based device, and I must say aside from a few very minor resolution issues it just worked, which is amazing, considering the fact that you didn’t actually do extensive work to make this possible.

    If you would like a helping hand on making prettyMobile work well on Android, drop me an email, I am considering on using prettyMobile to do a mobile version of a site.


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  8. Simon Flack says:

    You can wrap your webapp in PhoneGap and use Urban Airship for Push Notification.

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  11. David Mishra says:

    Its not the case anymore because these days thanks to third party app stores like Tutuapp Android and iOS users are able to install paid apps for free of charge.

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    And I agree to that too.
    Although the prime concern, before these will lift off, is in my view, the authentication problem.
    A Business wants to do Business with another company, but is this a fraud type of company or known for doing money laundry ? The same with B2C. You can have multitude of interactions without the need of identity, but sooner or later you find some legal issues requires the need for absolute identity authentication. Think about it, trying to borrow money or buying stuff (pay at delivery), wont the business know who you are ? All latest apps are available for free on vshare. Get it from
    And with Identity approvals, we need Public systems first that can certify you as citizen (or nationality). It will take a while, before the 250 countries has these kind of public systems…

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