Do iPhone WebApps Have a Future in the Post-App Store World?

We've asked this before: do iPhone WebApps have a future? Sure, Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and even Apple to some degree are all racing to own what many think will be the next paradigm shift in platforms: the cloud.

But when Steve Jobs announced WebApps as the first iPhone development environment back at WWDC 2007, the silence was deafening. Sure, many innovative games, utilities, and optimized RIA (rich internet applications) emerged -- and Apple keeps track of them on a completely non-iPhone optimized directory, but the moment the iPhone SDK was released, the momentum shifted near-instantaneously. (Even the Facebook 2.0 App managed to trump their previously dominant iPhone WebApp).

TiPb uses the WPtouch iPhone Theme to present a better experience to iPhone browsers. After all, even in light of Apple's "just the internet", they have encouraged these types of sites through their developer guidelines, and have snuck in code into iPhone OS 2.1 to allow full screen WebApps that hide the "chrome" (interface, including URL and search boxes, buttons, progress bars, etc.)

One of our readers, Christopher, also sent in word of his iWebKit tools, which seek to make it faster, simpler, and easier to develop and deploy iPhone websites.

So is there's still a time and a place for both? Is that time shortening and the place getting smaller for WebApps on the iPhone? Or will they ride the same tide as Microsoft Office for the Web 2009 (or whenever it ships) and surge ahead again, allowing native Apps to enjoy only transient dominance?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Do iPhone WebApps Have a Future in the Post-App Store World?


Can "web apps" get the user's location via GPS?
Make phone calls?
Interact with a contact list?
Detect tilt motion?
Screen touches?
Zoom-in/out pinches?
Detect altitude?

I highly doubt web apps are going to be relevant after the app store because dedicated apps that can run without using an internet connection are superior for the user.
On a side note, I'm STILL waiting for background notification and push email...

Technically Paula, the only reason web apps can't do most of those things you mentioned is because apple prohibits mobile Safari from offering those kinds of low level device functions. Interested in maintaining security within the browser, Apple has not bothered with certificates for web app designers or some other form of proprietary authorization to enable developers to make full festitrd web applications that rival native ones.

at least web apps don't crash and make your iPhone unstable. :(. Also after using the re facebook app as opposed to the web app, my battery life has taken a huge hit. I am revertig back to the web app till they can get it to be a little more stable.

There is no substitute for an app that can be used offline. The only apps which have any purpose being web apps are those that depend on the internet for 100% of their functionality. We are a long way from being connected to the net over every inch on, below and above the earth.

Webapps have there place, so do native apps. It's a loooooong way off before webapps can replace native apps completely.

The mass adoption of HTML 5 is not far away and with the introduction of HTML5 (and the ability of webapps to store data locally) webapps will see a rise.
But 'till then WebApps and Native Apps can live together:)

Of course there's a place for web apps, the benefit they have is leveraging server side processing power over desktop alternatives. The footprint they have is minimal as it's all done through the web browser. Its true that desktop apps have offline access and quicker responses than online apps, ultimately it's good to have a mix of desktop/online apps.

All the webapps I've written so far interact directly with pages in Safari. So yes, there's certainly a future for webapps in that context at least.

I know I'm very late to the party but I believe a combination is best. Reference materials that are updated a lot like wikipedia, wolfram-alpha and urbandictionary work best through a webapp interface. Instapaper works well by taking advantage of tabs but only if your device can cache pages well (iPhone 3GS, Pre). If webapps functioned like the wolfram alpha where it hid the safari UI, I wouldn't mind them too much.