Trevis Rothwell's weblog

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Native Applications or Web Applications?

06 February 2012

One of the things I’ve been contemplating most from my recent trip to MIT is the hypothetical decision of, for any given software application, should I write a native application that runs directly on the phone or PC, or should I write a web application? Our instructor, an accomplished software developer, pointed out that the web applications he built nineteen years ago are still running just fine, while he doubts that any native mobile phone applications written today will even be usable, much less running, nineteen years from now. And on top of that, it’s usually much more complicated to write a native application than to write a web application that does more or less the same thing.

After investing a fair bit of time into learning iPhone development, that hurt a little to hear! But further consideration leads me to the same conclusion. For all of the hours I’ve poured into iPhone programming, I’m still pretty disgusted by it. I wince when I envision the drudgery involved in making even modest changes or additions to an iPhone application. Web applications have always felt pretty streamlined overall.

But what about making money? Isn’t it super easy to make money on the iPhone App Store? I’ve recently been making some designs for a music education program that I planned to develop as an iPhone application. Yesterday, a friend showed me her new iPad, and asked what I thought about running GarageBand on it for basic music tracking. I said it’d be hard to go wrong with that option, as it only costs five dollars.

I seriously doubt that my planned music education app would have 10% of the overall functionality as GarageBand, so maybe I could offer a good value on the iPhone App Store if I just gave it away for free!

At least with web applications, you can justify time and resources spent hosting and maintaining the application, and charge money accordingly. Big companies might think it’s a good idea to build iPhone applications just so their marketing departments can say that they have one, but for an individual software engineer, maybe it’s not only more technically pleasant to write web software, but potentially more profitable…