June 21, 2012
Great apps are generally native apps. I discuss with our clients daily that, given unlimited time and money, every app should be native, as this affords the ultimate in user experience. Unfortunately, budgets rarely use the word "unlimited," so compromises must be made. Commonly, one of the first tactical directions away from native is to the mobile web. This asks users to painfully type a URL on their device and then suffer through a browser experience that takes away from the immersive experience that the app should convey. This all changed with Mozilla Junior, a browser being developed for the iPad targeted directly at the iPad user. Thanks to some outstanding design decisions, the mobile web now has a very bright future:
- A browser without chrome. This is the biggest stylistic deterrent to mobile apps. Today’s mobile web experience is always wrapped in browser “stuff” known as chrome (URL bar, navigation buttons, toolbars, etc.). Junior changes this by providing a browser with no chrome at all. This allows you, the mobile web developer, to use the entire screen as your app canvas. Native interactions (swipes/long presses/etc.) can now be fully implemented without fear of accidentally pressing a browser button.
- Bookmarks, the new app collection. This functionality exists in all mobile browsers today. What is novel is how it is presented in Junior. A separate view shows the open pages at the top and the bookmarked pages at the bottom. The developers discuss (at the 40:00 mark) how they’ve decided to display bookmarks as wide rectangles. This allows us to find the link we’re looking for quickly, but more importantly for the mobile web, this is the new app collection. The mobile web developer can customize the bookmark icon, and users no longer have to type in a URL or remember the name of the app in a list of bookmark titles. This experience is now identical to selecting an app from the native app list.
- A development platform for nondevelopers. As a developer, I'm most excited by this. Take another look at the bookmark (app collection) view. To create a bookmark, you simply drag an open page to the lower area of the screen. Let’s assume you can drag bookmarks around. With the adoption of web intents/web activities, a user will drag one bookmark (app) onto another, creating a service connection between the two applications, allowing users to create new higher-order apps with no code at all. This type of open app development model will drive the future of the mobile web.
- Multi-user support. My house shares the use of an iPad, which means that our app icons share a common canvas. Ideally, I would prefer that my boys do not “accidentally” open up the LinkedIn app and start making new connections, but this is unavoidable with small fingers and inquiring minds. Mozilla Junior has a dedicated screen for selecting which user is currently using the device. Combine this with some level of authentication, and you now have true app containers. These could be for parents/kids or consumer/enterprise apps. I hear requests for the latter almost daily.
Native apps are still great, but the mobile web alternative just got much better. Mozilla Junior has opened my eyes to the future, and I may need to buy some shades.