Santa brought me a lovely new Andoid phone - a Samsung Galaxy S and I am learning to love and hate the world of mobile phone apps. An app is nothing more than a software application for a phone but Apple has managed to turn a simple concept into a phenomenon their Iphone App store and Google is doing its best to imitate this with the Android Market.
The rise of the app store has meant an explosion of free and low priced software for smart phones. As long as your exercise a little common sense with regard to security and privacy this is a good thing but there is one particular type of app that really annoys me: The apps that are designed to replace internet browsers.
I am talking about facebook apps, Youtube apps, Google and Gmail apps and so on. There are apps for just about every major web service and now even minor players are jumping on the app bandwagon. My local library has an app, so does my local traffic authority (for telling you about speed cameras).
Why oh why do we need these apps? Every single smart phone has a functioning web browser and all of these services can be accessed with a web browser.The web service app was a stop gap solution dating from the days when mobile phone browsers were not up to the job of displaying web content but phone browsers are getting more and more capable all the time yet the explosion of web service apps continues unchecked.
One reason why such apps are a retrograde step compared to using a web browser is that the apps rarely give full access to a sites facilities. For example the You Tube app on my phone hides all comments on a video by default and does not allow you to leave a new comment.
Another key problem is the proliferation of mobile operating systems. We already have Iphones, Android phones, Symbian phones, Windows Phones and yet more types are on the way. Instead of wasting time writing an app for just one of these operating systems why not fix your website so it can be used viewed by a wide range of phone browsers.
While I am on the subject - making your website compatible with mobile phone browsers does not mean forcing the viewer into a cut down "mobile" mode. While some mobile browsers have limited viewing area many modern ones are full featured with excellent zooming tools. My Samsung with Android 2.2 even has Flash 10 capability. If you do offer a low resolution viewing mode for mobile users make damn sure it is optional at the users preference and please please make sure that it still offers access to all of the websites normal features. There is nothing worse than be forced into viewing a kinder-garden "mobile" version of a website and not even having access to the features you intend to use.