Making Money With Technology

How the iPhone Changed Mobile App Development

June 26, 2008

  • Adrienne Szewczyk Adrienne Szewczyk

Apple’s iPhone has radically changed the mobile applications landscape by opening up mobile application development to any web development firm using Web 2.0 standard technology. No longer is a specialized team who know the intricacies of proprietary cell phone software development necessary. This allows much faster development of mobile apps and also removes the dependency on a mobile carrier to approve software on their wireless network. And with the 3G iPhone coming soon, web apps will be even faster than the current versions.

What is Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 is the term commonly used to describe a new generation of web technologies and their focus on interactivity and data collaboration. The core technology is typically AJAX (javascript in a web browser which talks back to the web server), which provides the snazzy functionality in sites like Google maps. This new level of interactivity in a web page also usually includes providing the user access to different types of data at the same time (merging functionality from different web sites together in a single place).

Any Web Developer Can Do It…

Using web technologies to build connected apps has proven to be more efficient than using traditional mobile technologies. Mobile applications today are typically developed in J2ME (Java for phones), Brew or .Net, depending on what the target phone(s) support. These technologies provide a standard but often require phone specific tweaks as not all phones behave the same way. Usually this meant that a development team built up a special library over time that handled the quirks and work arounds for various phones.

Using Web 2.0 technologies means that nearly any capable web developer with any technology skill set (Java, Open Source, Microsoft, etc.) can now create mobile applications. It also means that existing applications can have new ‘skins’ applied to them to allow already developed functionality to be rolled out in a mobile environment.

All this boils down to it being much faster to build a connected app using web technologies than with traditional mobile technologies.

For example, during a recent Lextech training session, a small team developed a web app that pulled news headlines from the Tribune, created an audio file with the converted text to speech and sent it to the iPhone. With only about 4 hours of development work, the iPhone read news headlines aloud to the user.

Power to the People

With the mobile Web 2.0 revolution, wireless carriers are no longer the gate keepers controlling what applications users can access. The mobile user merely points their web browser to the correct place and away they go. This also simplifies the often nightmarish aspects of rolling out and updating applications that live inside of cell phones. Now an update to the main server updates the mobile application for everyone.

Companies Already on Board

Many leading online firms are already creating iPhone specific versions of their applications to better serve existing customers and tap into the growing market of mobile app demanding consumers. Google, Facebook and LinkedIn have already rolled out versions of their applications dedicated to iPhone users.

The Future…

The iPhone is merely the first in what will be a wave of Web 2.0 standards capable mobile devices in the market. This mobile revolution will rapidly accelerate new kinds of applications we’ve never seen before and allow deeper interactivity while we’re physically anywhere.