An Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Future of Mobile Apps Part I

By Marc Hudson on December 1st, 2012 / Comments

A whole generation of entrepreneurs are developing programs and businesses around mobile apps. Everything from social networking to cutting edge medical science is seemingly just a touch away, and visionary business leaders are racing to develop the next great app.

Despite the booming app market, not everything is all roses in the world of mobile application development. Currently, most apps are specifically tailored to a specific mobile operating system, meaning that creating an app across multiple platforms requires added complexity and costs for those who own and develop them.

So how did we get here and what does the future of mobile application development look like?

Drawing on the past history lessons of the web, we can make valuable predictions about the future of apps and the entrepreneurs building them.

History of Web Standards

Once upon a time, the web was a dysfunctional nightmare that was dictated to users by the very browsers that were created to serve them. Then in 1998, a divergent and evolutionary force forever changed the web for those who use and develop it.

web standards projectNamed “The Web Standards Project,” an international collation of web development leaders banded together to create a common set of rules to govern the use of the web’s native languages. Fed up by a lack of development standards among their peers, and even worse, a fragmented user experience for their users, these early web pioneers drafted the web’s first constitution.

More than a decade later, the fruits of these early labors were finally coming to maturity. A more semantic and standards based web had emerged. A web that had reduced the complexity of code development and maintenance was celebrated. User experiences were more consistent, and accessibility was at an all time high as web browsers increasingly incorporated these common guidelines.

If the web was written in English, then we had finally learned to use punctuation, spell check, and even grammar. The future was bright.

Smartphone Wars

Then a new technology changed the game. The iPhone debuted and took the portable web mainstream with its wildly popular touchscreen interface. Google and Microsoft would follow soon after, launching their own competing smartphone operating systems on a wave of new devices.  The smartphone wars had begun.

From the onset, the native web languages of the last decade were abandoned in the name of innovation. Unable to wait for web languages to catch up and support new hardware technologies such as GPS, touch screen gesturing, and digital cameras, the big three opted to develop their native applications using vendor specific programming languages and development methodologies.

Progress, once again, meant division.

A Painful Evolution

Fast forward to today and an entire ecosystem of operating system specific applications has emerged. A fragmented smartphone marketplace means that many companies and organizations are forced to develop a version of the same app for each platform in order to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Porting an app to each platform not only requires more planning, but it is inefficient and expensive due to high development costs demanded by the limited number of niche developers specializing in each operating system.

Native app development is cumbersome, costly, and intimidating to those of us who don’t speak Java or Objective-C as a second language.

The Future of App Development

Just when it seemed like the web standards movement might never translate to the new and quickly evolving smartphone market, a new hope has risen. The lessons learned from the early web have driven a movement to rear in the disjointed native application market by expanding the native web languages and standards to offer mobile developers a new and unified development choice in their app building toolkit.

Developers and tech entrepreneurs everywhere can rejoice and take solace in the fact that the mobile market game is changing yet again.

Only this time, we are moving toward a single standard, much like the web did in 1998.

Next week, in part 2, I’ll explain how these changes could reshape your plans for the mobile web in 2013 and beyond.

Image via Web Standards Project.

About the Author

Marc Hudson

Software Engineer (''UI Guy') at Quicken Loans and co-founder of Hudson Digital. Marc is a proud Detroiter and interested in development, startups, and health and medical technology.