Does the mere presence of Google’s HTML5 Apps Cast Doubt on Their Commitment to a Robust Android App Environment? Short answer – it depends… or so it would seem, as Google expresses a desire to move to the cloud, but is held back by poor web app performance versus locally hosted software. But for how long?
Google’s recent demo of their slick HTML5 version of Gmail, which was shown running on a Palm Pre at Mobile World Congress a little over a week ago, wowed onlookers with its native app-like functionality, particularly with respect to its ability to allow users to draft and organize emails while offline. Google accomplished these feats by taking advantage of the local databasing, geolocation and “AppCashe” functionality of the new, HTML5-based Webkit browsers, like those found on the upcoming, Palm Pre. Both the Apple iPhone and Android-based HTC G1 and G2 “Magic” handsets also incorporate Webkit browsers.
This demo of the HTML5 version of Gmail seems so good, so solid, robust and scalable, that one has to wonder if the conspiracy theory half-heartily put forth in our last post (i.e. Google encouraging Android OS fragmentation among device OEMs to favor web-based apps over locally hosted solutions) has any real merit. While undoubtedly interesting in its salaciousness (after all, who among us doesn’t enjoy a good Google conspiracy theory from time to time?), the theory seemed a bit flimsy… until Google’s recent HTML5 web app demo.
Ultimately, the question is if Google is truly committed to fostering a stable, robust Android development environment or is the Android SDK merely a stopgap measure for the search giant, until such time as most major application functionality can be migrated into the browser? At a recent Android Developer meetup I had the chance to ask Google Product VP Bradley Horowitz this very question.
Throughout the event Horowitz habitually brushed aside specific questions about the future of Android by steadfastedly emphasizing his lack of his direct oversight or visibility into the OS’s development roadmap. His perspective, however, did seem to change somewhat when asked about Google’s plans to eventually abandon a focus on native Android apps as soon as Browser-based solutions were up to the task.
For the record, Horowitz startlingly confirmed that “the end goal” for Google would be that “Webkit would swallow up” all the rich functionality which now can only be accomplished by native apps. Horowitz went on to express “frustration [that] even in desktop apps” there’s a performance hit when migrating app functionality to the browser, although one might argue that with respect to the mobile devices, with their limited processing power and available memory, that the performance difference between the two might not be so great… and the “uber” web app might just be the silver bullet we’ve all been waiting for. Ultimately, Horowitz hedged a bit in his closing remarks, stating that both web apps and the local Android SDK might align on parallel paths in pursuit of richer, more functional and higher performing solutions.
Weird stuff. One has to wonder if all the paranoia isn’t starting to make just a too much sense. Stay close to mobilestance.com for more on this and other popular conspiracy theories… Next week we’ll take a deeper dive into Sasquatch sitings at Area 51 (“couldn’t be a man in a gorilla suit, no f*ing way man you know he’s real”).