App vs. WebApp: A philosophical difference

App vs WebApp (Chrome/iTunes)Last week two items of note occurred. Apple released the iPad, and Google announced they would be building Flash into Chrome and Chrome OS. These two announcements highlight a growing difference between Apple and Google’s strategies for the future of computing. Both agree it’s mobile, but they have strong differing opinions on the issue of App vs WebApp.

Apple has had an interesting evolution. When the iPhone OS was first released, Apple staunchly positioned it as web apps only, with no native applications allowed. Eventually, after a small community of hackers got apps to work on the phones and even created a single app to find, download, and update their apps, Apple caved in. We then got a SDK for native applications, and finally arrived in the age of “There’s an App for that.” The iPad as a device is the epitome of this mentality. The iPad is about taking experiences that live elsewhere, whether Netflix or the New York Times, and creating an even better, completely customized experience for a single device. It’s all about the apps.

Google was a website. Less than that even. It was a website for searching other websites. Eventually, it blossomed into a larger entity that encompassed cloud based web applications, from email to document editing. The problem with web applications is that of integration. Web apps necessitate a cumbersome third party between themselves and the user – the web browser. Google’s first line of attack was to create their own web browser, Chrome, which has steadily gained market share. Google wants to take this integration even deeper, which is why they announced Chrome OS – an entire operating system experience built around web applications. It’s all about the web.

These two approaches are starting to show themselves. Apple isn’t allowing Flash, and to compensate Adobe has built into Creative Suite 5 the ability to export a Flash program as Objective-C, the programming language iPhone apps are built in. Apple claims HTML 5 will solve the issue for the web, and that 3rd parties should change to support Apple devices. Google is a major proponent of HTML 5. They have also made a partnership with Adobe to built in support for Flash into the core of Chrome OS. Google wants the web as it exists today to be delivered to Chrome OS devices.

For brands looking to create utility for customers, there is a substantial question of app vs web app. Ultimately, it depends on who the customer is. For Apple’s ecosystem, it is all about apps, with some potential for HTML 5 web apps (but Safari is but one button amongst many other shiny application icons). For Google, it’s all about the web apps. A web application can ease the headache of supporting the various Android devices, and will certainly run on the future Chrome OS devices. HTML 5 is a safe middle ground if looking to exist on both platforms, but instead think more broadly of building web experiences across multiple screen sizes, and then implement those ideas either first on the web (using HTML 5 and Flash when needed), or in an iPhone/iPad app.