At yesterday’s MobileBeat conference in San Francisco, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Engineering VP Vic Gundotra said the app store trend is just a fad and at some point powerful browsers will take over as the main mechanism for delivering services to the phone, reports FT.com.
While that may be true, the biggest problem facing Google will not be convincing developers, but consumers. Apple’s steroid-enhanced marketing machine has drilled into the public thinking that “there’s an app for that,” not that there’s a URL. Clearly after logging 1.5 billion downloads within a year, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is on to something and vigorously training the mobile users of tomorrow. Even if Google is correct for all the right technical reasons, they may face an uphill battle when it comes to perceptions.
It’s not that Gundotra didn’t make a strong case about using mobile browsers. He argued: “What we clearly see happening is a move to incredibly powerful browsers. Many, many applications can be delivered through the browser and what that does for our costs is stunning.” Already, there’s some evidence that this could work. The latest technology will let web applications tap features on the phone, including the accelerometer, and already Google has integrated location information.
And mostly, users don’t care what technology they are using as long as it works. When people in the mobile industry talk about browser-based technology, they aren’t saying that icons—or shortcuts—on the phone will go away. In actuality, there might be a light-weight widget sitting on your phone’s homescreen, much like an icon today—however, it’s actively pulling info from the web. For instance, Google’s Android operating system is already supporting widgets. The WeatherBug widget displays the current temperature and the expected hi and low for the day—based on your location—right in the icon.
But it’s not just marketing hype…Google will have to prove browsers are the best way to go, and some of the challenges of creating a browser environment may be out of Google’s hands. It’s up to the carrier to provide a strong signal, and without a native experience on the phone, losing a cellular connection or having a weak signal would severely hamper the user experience. In addition, it’s not realistic to believe that the browser will eliminate fragmentation (unless Google intends on dominating the mobile browser market). Developers will have to tailor their services to meet all of them, much like they do today for the iPhone’s Safari browser. Another complication, which could be an entirely separate post, is distribution. How will you find new services in a browser? Likely, Google’s answer is Google search.
To be sure, there’s still a ton of kinks to be worked out in Google’s plan. But you have to wonder why Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, caved on the matter himself over a year ago. If you remember, Jobs originally had the same idea for the iPhone. “Build for the web,” he said. But as we know, applications were launched just a year later, now there’s more than 65,000. That’s a lot of momentum.
By Tricia Duryee