Thursday, March 24, 2011

Are Web Apps the Next Big Thing?

Nowadays, everyone and his dog seems to be extolling the virtues of web apps. Examples:
  • iPod first created the concept of an “ecosystem” built around a product, with integration with iTunes. They followed it up with iPad and a huge App Store to go with it.
  • MS Office 2010 buyers get free online applications of Office that run under most browsers. This is a significant “webification” of MS Office 2007 which transitioned from creating binary objects to XML objects for the first time.
  • Google's Chrome browser has created a Web Store and several of the apps available on it (I have only checked some of the Free ones) are stunning. The browser now reads PDF files natively without need for a PDF reader plug-in.
  • The Chrome browser will eventually become the OS itself – where you directly boot up and go online. The browser is the OS.
  • Splashtop offers a Linux OS of that kind, with a difference – it is is installable like any Windows app, from within Windows (indeed, that is the only way you can install it), and offers a quick boot option that actually boots and goes online in 10 seconds on many machines.
  • Much electronic ink is being expended on whether Firefox will survive or not, revolving around the preesence or absence of its App strategy.
  • The CEO of Nokia, in his now famous “burning platform” email to Nokia employees, says that Nokia failed to see the “ecosystem” concept that Apple, Android and others were building around mobile handsets, and lamented that Nokia tried to replicate feature after feature, but not the ecosystem. It's Ovi Store is an attempt to catch up.
Tablet PCs were touted as the rage a few years back (Gates demo-ed a device running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition at Comdex in 2001), but flopped. So did e-book reading hand-held devices like Treo, Palm, et al, that were PDAs and e-book readers but not phones. Both these concepts were a little ahead of their times, so today, e-book readers like Kindle and Nook and hand-held tablet PCs have become the rage. Smartphones like Blackberry and iPhone have e-book reading apps pre-loaded, or downloadable free.
For some time, now, Google has been evangelising the idea of storing and depending more and more on “the cloud”, but it will be some time before people learn to depend completely on the cloud, to the exclusion of local access and storage. The same way that news reports that the Nano caught fire has deterred many potential Tata Nano buyers, I am also a little cagey on reading recently that some 150 users of Gmail had the entire content on their Gmail account deleted. What if I was among those 150? A simple hard disk crash is something we have learnt to take in our stride, using the redundancy in the form of cloud storage plus regular local backups and redundant copies. But what is the alternative in the cloud? Is there redundancy ? How can it be affordable? Now it is free, but for how long? These are concerns everyone has, and until these are taken care of and seen to be taken care of, web apps will not become universal.
So, while I think the concept of web apps will take off finally, currently, the apps are curiosities that early adopters are adopting; to accelerate that into a burgeoning “movement” where all will migrate to web apps will take many many more adopters. I can see it happening in 3-4 years from now, but not now. Now, many will begin co-opting “the cloud” into their redundancy plans, for non-secure data.
What do you think?

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