Build mobile Web browser applications
It's amazing to watch companies that don't rely on directly monetizing their mobile application invest in native mobile applications for iOS or Android. In a rush to be the first to market, these companies optimized for a device rather than following the cross-platform and cross-browser Web application strategy they've used on the desktop for the better part of a decade.
For example, if TweetDeck, which is best known for its thick-desktop Twitter client, can see the light and deliver the same user experience in a Web browser across desktop and mobile devices, chances are your company's Web application can also evolve into a mobile Web application without paying the cost of device-specific implementations.
The key element of TweetDeck's announcement is that "TweetDeck Web, however, is a standalone website and requires no downloads, [requires] no app stores, and is not limited to any one brand of Web browser."
"No app stores" is a win for the browser
The "no app stores" angle obviously has its pros and cons. However, unlike individual developers, companies that aren't monetizing the mobile app itself don't need to rely on an app store to attract users. They already have users and other processes to attract new users. Their users simply want to interact with these companies through mobile devices. In fact, putting the company's Web application into an app store adds extra hurdles for users and for the company when it comes to fixing defects or updating the application.
Yes, if users begin to rely more on app stores and less on the Internet itself for finding new vendors of goods or services, being in the app store of choice will become as important as being listed in Google's Web index. But we're years away from this scenario becoming reality, if it ever does. In the short to medium term, established companies can well address new and existing customers through a mobile Web application.
It's strange that Google hasn't recognized the mobile browser application opportunity and is instead trying to replicate Apple's App Store strategy in its Android Market. The use of the browser undermines the value of the underlying OS, and because Google doesn't much care to profit from the underlying OS or the device (unlike Apple), it should be encouraging companies to build mobile Web applications, not device-native applications. And Google should be indexing and promoting these mobile Web applications.
Consider cross-device frameworks as a step toward standard browser applications
Individual developers and companies that need to be an app store or want to access more of the device's native capabilities, such as the camera or GPS, should evaluate the various cross-device frameworks available. For example, PhoneGap already has an impressive list of cross-device native feature support. Using a framework such as PhoneGap and its build service could make it easier, faster, and cheaper to create applications for Android and iOS, instead of having to decide which platform to prioritize.
Over time, standards will emerge to access core mobile device capabilities, such as the camera and contacts list, in a cross-device fashion. Whether this occurs through de facto standards around a framework such as PhoneGap or through a formal standards body efforts is unclear. Maybe Google will smarten up and realize it has more to gain by spearheading this initiative than trying to play Apple's App Store game.
If the past decade has taught us anything, it's that the browser is the application runtime that matters most. Build for the browser.
This article, "Build for Android or iOS? There's no need to choose," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Savio Rodrigues' Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.