The rise and challenge of multiple platforms
Consider the difficulty of developing mobile apps for all devices …

Remember 37signals’ Approach to the Basecamp App?

Many readers may have noted 37Signals’ decision to develop the mobile version of their popular Basecamp project management service as an HTML5 Web App. After having developed an iOS-native app for their Highrise application, they noted the fast rise of Android-based mobile devices. Rather than add an Android developer to their team, they opted to shift strategy. By developing the Basecamp app as a mobile web app, they made the app immediately accessible to a wide away of devices across multiple platforms. Thus, their announcement of the app’s launch began as follows:

Today we launch Basecamp Mobile for phones and devices with WebKit browsers. This includes the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPad, Motorola Droid X, Motorola Droid 2, Samsung Galaxy S, HTC Incredible, HTC Evo, Palm Pre 2, BlackBerry Torch, or any other device running iOS 4+, Android 2.1+, webOS 2, or BlackBerry 6.

Interestingly, many institutions of higher education seem to be making the same shift, away from applications that are native to a specific OS and toward HTML5-based web applications.

Seeking the Holy Grail of Device Agnosticism

As the collaborators participating in the UCLA Mobile Web Framework have put it, they seek to build:

a cross-platform web framework that focuses on mobile web standards, semantic markup, device agnosticism and graceful degradation, providing a robust presentation layer that allows applications to define a single set of markup optimized for HTML 5 capable devices that degrades gracefully to any HTML 4.01 or XHTML MP compliant device including Blackberry, Windows Mobile and even T9 phones.

Allow me to feature a few key quotes from the article: “As Mobile Devices Multiply, Some Colleges Turn Away From Building Campus Apps” — The Chronicle of Higher Education — June 27, 2001

The Big Question: Is the cost of native-OS-specific mobile apps worth it?

Many colleges have published iPhone apps in the last few years … Then [they] found they also needed to develop a version for [Android, Blackberry, etc.]. … [A]t least a few colleges are now reconsidering the wisdom and the expense of building all those mobile apps … [and] shifting their attention from stand-alone applications that can be downloaded from an app store to mobile-optimized versions of their Web sites.

College officials who favor mobile Web sites say that developing apps is getting too expensive. It can require creating and updating multiple versions of a single program, one for iPhones and another for Android phones, for instance. By contrast, a single mobile Web site can work with all kinds of devices, potentially lowering development costs.

A Caveat: Is there still a place for mobile apps?

Colleges without [mobile apps] will miss reaching a critical group of tech-savvy users … Mobile applications can … take advantage of the latest features of smartphones and tablets…. For instance … Blackboard plans to release an augmented-reality application … When users point their phones’ cameras at a campus landmark … the application will display information about the landmark on their screens. “You can’t do that stuff on the Web,” Mr. Beykpour says. “You just can’t.”

Some observers … believe that colleges will actually need both mobile formats. “Guess what, you’re going to be doing everything, you’re going to be supporting everything, and that’s the nature of mobile,” Mr. Olsen says.

Read the full article: “As Mobile Devices Multiply, Some Colleges Turn Away From Building Campus Apps” — The Chronicle of Higher Education — June 27, 2001

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