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Summary:

At yesterday’s MobileBeat conference in San Francisco, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Engineering VP Vic Gundotra said the app store trend is just a fa…

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At yesterday’s MobileBeat conference in San Francisco, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Engineering VP Vic Gundotra said the app store trend is just a fad and at some point powerful browsers will take over as the main mechanism for delivering services to the phone, reports FT.com.

While that may be true, the biggest problem facing Google will not be convincing developers, but consumers. Apple’s steroid-enhanced marketing machine has drilled into the public thinking that “there’s an app for that,” not that there’s a URL. Clearly after logging 1.5 billion downloads within a year, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is on to something and vigorously training the mobile users of tomorrow. Even if Google is correct for all the right technical reasons, they may face an uphill battle when it comes to perceptions.

It’s not that Gundotra didn’t make a strong case about using mobile browsers. He argued: “What we clearly see happening is a move to incredibly powerful browsers. Many, many applications can be delivered through the browser and what that does for our costs is stunning.” Already, there’s some evidence that this could work. The latest technology will let web applications tap features on the phone, including the accelerometer, and already Google has integrated location information.

And mostly, users don’t care what technology they are using as long as it works. When people in the mobile industry talk about browser-based technology, they aren’t saying that icons — or shortcuts — on the phone will go away. In actuality, there might be a light-weight widget sitting on your phone’s homescreen, much like an icon today — however, it’s actively pulling info from the web. For instance, Google’s Android operating system is already supporting widgets. The WeatherBug widget displays the current temperature and the expected hi and low for the day — based on your location — right in the icon.

But it’s not just marketing hype…Google will have to prove browsers are the best way to go, and some of the challenges of creating a browser environment may be out of Google’s hands. It’s up to the carrier to provide a strong signal, and without a native experience on the phone, losing a cellular connection or having a weak signal would severely hamper the user experience. In addition, it’s not realistic to believe that the browser will eliminate fragmentation (unless Google intends on dominating the mobile browser market). Developers will have to tailor their services to meet all of them, much like they do today for the iPhone’s Safari browser. Another complication, which could be an entirely separate post, is distribution. How will you find new services in a browser? Likely, Google’s answer is Google search.

To be sure, there’s still a ton of kinks to be worked out in Google’s plan. But you have to wonder why Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, caved on the matter himself over a year ago. If you remember, Jobs originally had the same idea for the iPhone. “Build for the web,” he said. But as we know, applications were launched just a year later, now there’s more than 65,000. That’s a lot of momentum.

  1. Tom Limongello Saturday, July 18, 2009

    There's a link for that.

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  2. bing!

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  3. C'mon guys, grow up. Read the actual argument Tricia's making.

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  4. I don't think Google are right technically, I think they are right politically – backing an open standard for client side technology.
    Technically, writing all applications in a single threaded scripting language based on an outdated document format is not a good choice. The new features are nice, but the foundation still leaves a lot lacking.

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  5. "Technically, writing all applications in a single threaded scripting language based on an outdated document format is not a good choice. "

    html is evolving. http://dev.w3.org/html5/workers/ or something similar will solve the single-threaded problem. and html5 is hardly outdated. the canvas tag and etc. allow developers to be almost as expressive as they can be with flash/silverlight.

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  6. Leigh – the foundation is still weak. the entire VM needs an overhaul – and I don't think the current standards process of evolution will ever address this.

    We need standards and cross platform support. We also need a good technical platform for very rich, complex applications. This isn't about canvas and video, this is about the runtime platform itself.

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  7. Tom Limongello Saturday, July 18, 2009

    Ok rafat, to get serious we need to split the field into publisher apps and games. The 'richness' of publisher apps can be handled by hmtl 5 but games do need more than the current evolution. Not making that distinction keeps the space confused.

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  8. lucas dickey Sunday, July 19, 2009

    "To be sure, there’s still a ton of kinks to be worked out in Google’s plan. But you have to wonder why Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, caved on the matter himself over a year ago. If you remember, Jobs originally had the same idea for the iPhone. “Build for the web,” he said. But as we know, applications were launched just a year later, now there’s more than 65,000. That’s a lot of momentum."

    It's pretty simple to figure out why Steve "caved" on web apps vs native apps…this way Apple controls the distribution in a way that they couldn't with web apps.

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  9. I do not think it is an either or question. To me it makes perfect sense to download apps on the client. Even if you have a fast connection downloading larger sizes of code to your phone seems to make more sense to me. Just because the bandwidth is there does not mean one has to waste it. Additionally security and privacy might be an issue. If browser based apps get more access to the phone OS then automatically security becomes a big issue. Finally and that in my opinion is the biggest issue: In order to use all these shiny cloud based applications you need constant network coverage and that is not given yet for mobile devices and probably wont be for a while. It is just very difficult and prohibitively expensive to provide high speed network coverage in an urban environment (deflection, interference, etc …).

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  10. This all feels like AOL Keywords from the 90's. Marketing spend to convince people to ignore URLs. What's more is that iPhone apps require C programming (or close enough) and there's not so big a pool of that talent. It's fashionable right now to do iPhone apps, but maintaining app code is generally more work that web-based, so the economics would point to Google's argument in the long run. Especially since most of the iPhone apps are hanging off web service, which is a whisker away from BEING web-apps.

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