Does your business really need an App for smartphones? HTML5 might have other ideas

What does HTML5 mean to the future of Apps (Photo: Segagman via Flickr)If there is one thing we must all watch carefully in the Web2.0 space, it is falling prey to ‘shiny new toy’ syndrome.

By that I mean the noisiest people in social media channels are often the super geeks and early adopters who love the ‘rush’ of being first to try a new tool, whether or not what that tool brings offers any tangible business benefit at all.

At the moment, one of the most enticing concepts is that of creating an App for your business so that savvy punters can interact with your online goodness via their iPads or tablets or smartphones.

As with any new and ‘mystical’ technology, development prices are steep at the front end before the market works out the more realistic price and more players enter the market with better, faster ways of producing the same outcomes.

My question is, are Apps at this point now, where a small business needs to burn decent money to get an App that is worth a consumer’s time or effort to download and use?

And will this expense have been wasted if, in a year or so, the latest version of the code protocols that our websites and browsers (well, most) adhere to, HTML5 can offer users all the fun and functionality of an App on a normal website?

Here is an example from none other than Google itself.

Use Gmail offline, just like an App

The Gmail blog reported this week how the new functionality of HTML5 has the power to transform what websites can do. Here are the first two paragraphs, which really sum things up nicely:

The great thing about web apps is that you can access all of your information on the go, and we’ve introduced ways to use Google Apps on a variety of devices like mobile phones and tablets. But it’s inevitable that you’ll occasionally find yourself in situations when you don’t have an Internet connection, like planes, trains and carpools. When we announced Chromebooks at Google I/O 2011, we talked about bringing offline access to our web apps, and now we’re taking our first steps in that direction. Gmail offline will be available today, and offline for Google Calendar and Google Docs will be rolling out over the next week, starting today.

Gmail Offline is a Chrome Web Store app that’s intended for situations when you need to read, respond to, organize and archive email without an internet connection. This HTML5-powered app is based on the Gmail web app for tablets, which was built to function with or without web access. After you install the Gmail Offline app from the Chrome Web Store, you can continue using Gmail when you lose your connection by clicking the Gmail Offline icon on Chrome’s “new tab” page.

So what they are talking about is a browser App that makes websites behave like ‘traditional’ Apps.

What follows is that soon you won’t need an App designer to create a special function for you, you will just be able to get your web designer to make use of HTML5’s full capabilities to roll out enhanced usability via your website for users on their phones, tablets or computers.

And already a former Apple HTML5 leader has left Apple to start a service supporting developers in getting up to speed with HTML5 so that this ‘universally compatible’ protocol can roll out its goodness across all platforms and devices.

“One of the big reasons I left [Apple] is because I really believe that the next great app ecosystem for mobile especially, but also for PCs and television, is going to be built around HTML5,” Charles Jolley told ReadWriteWeb.

So, hold on for the next 18 months as we redefine what App means and we redefine what is considered typical website functionality. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

In the meantime, I’d love some comments and clarification from Top End App developers for their more technically-nuanced insights on this issue. Over to you …

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