Native applications are the new future?

Internet services are more and more complimenting their service with native applications. The rise of the Iphone — including derivatives like the Ipod Touch and Ipad — and Apple’s appstore have boosted the availability of internet connected native applications. Applications to read news stories on newyorktimes.com or Twitter clients to keep everyone updated on your life.

A bit of history
Computing more or less started with the mainframe era. Mainframes were the primary computing unit and users accessed the mainframe using dumb terminals.
In the 80s and rise of Microsoft Windows and personal computers the paradigm changed to standalone usage. Individual computers were islands only connected through floppy disks. Next came the rise of computer networks. Companies connected computers together. These computers used servers to store and retrieve information. The era of client – server computing was born.
When the internet gained popularity and became mainstream with the invention of the worldwide web another paradigm shift took place. Computing moved to the web and using sophisticated — but standard — web browser software personal computers could access information on the internet. The new trend was to move all applications to the web. The web would offer a standard and uniform way to interact with applications.

Ipod, Iphone, Kindle, Evernote
And then another thing happened. A myriad of special purpose devices were created. Devices like the Ipod to listen to music, smartphones to connect to both the online and offline world and ebook readers to read your books. And all of these devices have one thing in common. That is that they use the internet as part of their content delivery network. Ipod are loaded with music through iTunes and iTunes loads its music from the internet. Smartphones access emails and twitters from the internet and ebooks get their books using online bookstores.
But these devices also have in common that they do not use a web browser. Some, if not most, of them are capable of running it but they use native applications for their primary use cases.

During this time I also see this trend translate to internet services who use personal computers as their primary platform. Services like Evernote and Kindle offer native applications for the personal computer. These services think they can offer a better service to their users this way. The reasons vary from a more powerful user experience to offline usage of the service.

Google Gears and Adobe Air
Companies like Adobe and Google have recognized this need and developed their own solutions. Adobe developed Adobe Air. Software to develop and run flash applications as a standalone application on the desktop. And Google created Gears to use web applications without an internet connection. Gears has not been a great success. The adoption rate beyond a few Google applications is zero. The result off Adobe Air is still in the air so to speak. There are 900 applications available through Adobe Air’s website. The availability on Android will boost its adoption. But there are two reasons why I do not think it will happen. First is the user interface which looks alien on any platform and the second is that it is a standard controlled by a company. Eventually this always leads to failure.

Trend to offer a more powerful user experience using native applications
I see a definite trend to offer next to an internet service a native application experience on individual platforms including personal computers. Even HTML5 cannot change that. There are so many advantages for native applications in specific use cases and companies start to recognize that web is not the end of all others. The web is great for general purpose applications and will never go away. But for specific use cases native applications are back. And the internet plays the role of content store and content delivery network.