The Fading iPhone App Store

While Apple's application store -- along with the iPhone -- may have helped kickstart the age of mobile devices, it may not lead the revolution for long.

That's the conclusion a mobile Internet firm is drawing from a poll of over 4,000 British and American consumers, as The Guardian reports:

The unique selling point of the iPhone - it's App Store - will dwindle in appeal within two years as HTML5 becomes the standard for browsers and mobile web applications become increasingly feature-rich, says the 2010 Mobile Web Usage Forecast by mobile internet firm Volantis.

That makes a lot of sense based on what's going on in the marketplace. Browsers are increasingly supporting features unique to mobile devices and there's a (relatively) fast convergence around HTML5, the latest version of the language that governs how online content is presented. Applications for the iPhone won't disappear, but it will be easier to make websites with much of the same functionality as those apps without being exclusive to Apple's devices.

HTML5 allows for, among other things, easier embedding of videos, offline access to Web applications such as e-mail, and the integrated sharing of location information with user consent. Even Apple CEO Steve Jobs threw his support behind HTML5 in an April letter explaining why Adobe's popular Flash format was not supported on the iOS, the operating system for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

HTML5, the new web standard that has been adopted by Apple, Google and many others, lets web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third party browser plug-ins (like Flash). HTML5 is completely open and controlled by a standards committee, of which Apple is a member.

The latest versions of most major browsers have begun supporting HTML5, at least in part. And, though it's not strictly related to HTML5, both Google's Chrome browser and Firefox can now detect the orientation of a device, allowing, for example, a user to control a car in a racing game by turning their device like a steering wheel, something previously only possible within applications.

The appeal of both HTML5 and the browser upgrades is that developers can build one site that runs on all devices, rather than creating separate apps for the iOS and Android, Google's mobile operating system. There will still be advantages to developing apps that run natively on Apple devices -- to take advantage of the multitasking capabilities, for example -- but many important features can be offered through HTML5. [Update: For example, a Google product manager made it clear today that the revamped YouTube mobile site is better than the native iPhone app.]

Freelancer.com, which claims to have outsourced over 725,000 temporary projects, says that HTML5-related tasks increased sevenfold between the first and second quarter of this year. Those tasks were second only to jobs related to geolocation, which allows users to share their real-world location. (Those increased ninefold.)

The "most important reason" Steve Jobs offered for not supporting Flash was that, with it, "developers only have access to the lowest common denominator set of features." Those who write a Flash program that runs on all platforms would not be able to take advantage of features unique to Apple's devices. But as those features increasingly become part of the fabric of the Web, the importance of Apple's app store may begin to wane.

Presented by

Niraj Chokshi is a former staff editor at TheAtlantic.com, where he wrote about technology. He is currently freelancing and can be reached through his personal website, NirajC.com. More

Niraj previously reported on the business of the nation's largest law firms for The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper. He has also been published in The Hartford Courant, The Seattle Times and The Age, in Melbourne, Australia. He's also a longtime programmer and sometimes website designer.

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