Tag: Web Technology

Facebook Aiming to Undermine AppStore With HTML5 Effort

MG Siegler at TechCrunch broke a story today that, if true, sends a strong signal that Facebook plans to attempt to subvert at least some of Apple's heavy-handed control of iOS (iPhone, iPad, etc.) apps through the AppStore. According to Siegler, who claims first-hand knowledge of Project Spartan at Facebook, the plan is to get a sizable number (80 or more) of current AppStore-successful developers to create apps in HTML5 rather than Flash and to make those apps available through Facebook as a medium/platform.

I've made no secret of my belief that Web apps, as contrasted with native iOS apps, are the real wave of the future in smartphone development. But it's been clear for some time that the biggest problem wasn't going to be development tools or platform access; rather, it was going to be the issue of how developers could get their Web apps into consumer hands easily and in large numbers. Facebook has the potential to play that pivotal role here. Apple won't. Google, with its Android plans, probably can't either. That really leaves Facebook to do this work and become solidified as the third player in the Big Time Dev Game for smart devices.

With its massive installed base of users, many if not most of whom are regular visitors to the Facebook space, these guys could provide a huge marketplace for the right kinds of apps.
And therein lies the potential Achilles Heel for FB. Facebook apps, almost without exception, are time-wasters, mind-numbers and thumb-twiddlers. While they're popular among a big portion of the FB crowd, it remains to be seen if enough users of that social net service are ready to look to FB to be a provider or publisher of more serious business, productivity or utility apps that run in a browser and take advantage of iOS device attributes. I hope they do but I'm pretty skeptical about the potential here.

Big Milestone: HTML5 Spec Enters Review Phase

The W3C has announced that the spec for the next major upgrade in the lingua franca of the Web, HTML5, is now available for open review. This is a major milestone in the process of adopting any new Web technology under the auspices of the chief governing body of Web tech.

Here's a pretty decent summary of the progress, status and future of HTML5 vis a vis the W3C from CNET.

Even though it is probably still at least two years from formal adoption, HTML5 is gaining a lot of traction among browser companies and I expect its final announcement to be a real yawner that will have been preceded by its virtual adoption by all of the significant browser makers well before that date.

REVisiting REVolution

A strange thing has happened to me in recent days. I've found myself becoming re-energized and re-excited about app and Web development using my once-and-future favorite programming tool. Runtime Revolution (aka RunRev) was my bread-and-butter for several years. It has undergone a significant upgrade in its capabilities, deliverable platforms, and even sports a new name: LiveCode. But it is still, at heart, a user-friendly and highly approachable scripting language.

Two things drew me back.

I originally left the fold reluctantly because I wanted to build Web apps and LiveCode (I'll get used to the new name I'm sure) wasn't ready to allow that in ways that I thought would be useful. Today, that situation hasn't changed much but I have decided I'm not likely at this late stage of life (never mind) to create any world-class, best-selling software for the Web that needs to be deliverable only as a Web app. If I do come up with something, I'll use my other favorite tool, NOLOH, and just put up with the nastiness of PHP to gain the elegance of the framework. But for Web work for clients — which describes two projects I'm about to begin work on — the fact that LiveCode requires a browser plugin is not an insurmountable obstacle.

The second thing that drew me back was the attractiveness of building for the mobile market. There, I think I actually do have ideas for a couple of programs that have serious income potential. While I believe that building such technology particularly for iOS and Android platforms is best handled with Web sites/apps and not with standalone apps, the marketing problems posed by the former are staggering if not insurmountable. With standalone apps, you have the app stores (with all of their downsides, almost all software for sale on those platforms goes through them). Using LiveCode, I can write these apps once and then deliver them on all major desktops and both major mobile platforms.

I'm amazed at how quickly I'm remembering how to do this scripting work. Some of it's a little rusty and my brain has a tad more fuzz than it once had but I'm feeling fairly comfortable already and I'm sure it'll start flooding back in as I begin to use it.

The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same. Even in technology. Who'd have thought?

Mobile Users Unafraid to Buy Remotely

Website magazine published a story reporting on a survey done by JWire that found an astonishing percentage of mobile users are comfortable spending hundreds of dollars from their largely insecure mobile devices. The study bodes well for online merchants, even those with mid-priced products and services, in an increasingly mobile universe.

I was equally astonished to read this in the same story: "According to yet more research (this time from the E-tailing Group), tablet owners do more "mobile" shopping than smartphone users." That has some strong implications for our clients who are considering or already implementing mobile marketing strategies.

If you aren't already beginning to deploy Web apps and sites that tailor to the mobile user, you are already losing ground to your more nimble competition. Heads up!

Business Catalyst Not Quite the Powerhouse I’d Thought

A while back I was singing the praises quite loudly and publicly for a product called Business Catalyst. This nicely engineered tool designed to allow Web designers to develop the business interactions necessary to building business solutions without programming had started as a smallish product from a tiny startup in Australia but two years ago was purchased by Adobe Systems.

I'm not a big fan of Adobe, after watching how they screwed up firs GoLive then Dreamweaver in successive acquisitions of great products that languished or deteriorated under their confused leadership. But I was pretty impressed  with what it seemed they had done with Business Catalyst.

Now, a few months and hundreds of hours of experience later, I'm a bit jaded. I still think Business Catalyst is a great tool, don't get me wrong. But it isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. The biggest gaping hole I've found so far is in the app's claim that it allows the creation of "Web Apps" entirely within its programmerless framework. That would be the Holy Grail for many of us. Alas, when Adobe says BC can build "Web Apps" what it really means is that it can build ultra-simple, single-table database interfaces which, will eminently useful, are well short of the expectations of anyone who has built any Web apps in other more technologically sophisticated platforms and frameworks.

I'm less annoyed by the lack of capability than I am by the disingenuousness of their use of the term Web App. One wag who is either with the company or an unabashed defender of All Things Adobe said this was allowable because "Nobody can really define the term 'Web App' anyway." I think the Wikipedia article on the subject offers some useful insights, including the notion that a Web app shouldn't subject its users to frequent page reloads because of a server query, and the support for such desktop-app functionality as drag-and-drop, to name two. The so-called "Web apps" you can build in BC don't meet either of those simple criteria, let alone the more exacting expectations that I'm sure most if not all users would impose on an experience labeled a "Web app" as opposed to a "Web site."

At the end of the day if you are faced with building a Web app in the sense everyone but Adobe uses the phrase, BC won't be of any use. You might as well use conventional HTML5 and/or HTML/CSS/JavaScript with a dash of PHP or Python.

When Amazon Doesn’t Mean Bookstore

I really had to chuckle at myself this morning.

I was reading my Fluent News update on my iPad and there were two stories on the screen, three items apart, both of which had the word Amazon in the headline. The first was clearly about Amazon.com and some business dealings they were engaged in.

The second story headline read, "Geometry skills are innate, Amazon tribe study suggests."  My first reaction was, "When did Amazon.com start a community type called a 'tribe' and why would they be studying academic skills in mathematics?" Of course I quickly noticed that this article is about an actual tribe of humans living on the Amazon River.

It's interesting how keeping your head in one space for a while can warp even simple English comprehension!

End of Spam? Credit Card Flow Could Be Secret

If this story is accurate, it could be feasible to end the flow of spam by cutting off the spammers' use of credit card clearing agencies' merchant accounts. It may even be possible to stay ahead of them before they can find new accounts to replace those being closed.

University of California researchers became volunteer spam victims for several months, chasing a billion messages and buying thousands of dollars worth of products and services as they studied the whole ecosphere of spamming. 

I'm not given to wild optimism but this could be amazingly good news if what these guys say is true.

If You Really Want to Learn Objective-C, Here’s Some Free Stuff!

It's no secret that I am a strong proponent of developing Web apps using HTML5 technology for the deployment of iOS products as opposed to writing native apps. I won't restate my reasons for that preference here. But I did run across an interesting piece on ReadWriteWeb.com offering some free and valuable resources if you are convinced I'm wrong or if you have a specific need that cries out for a stand-alone, platform-specific app for iPhone/iPad.

This article points you to several free online resources for learning and applying the hybrid object-oriented Objective-C programming language sanctioned and supported by Apple's XCode environment for building iOS apps. The relatively steep learning curve for Objective-C that faces anyone who isn't fairly comfortable with C syntax will be eased both financially and in terms of time by these great tools.

Adobe Business Catalyst: Too Good to Be Real?

I've spent quite a bit of time of late being amazed by Adobe Business Catalyst. I first looked into ABC about three years ago when i was evaluating Web app development platforms for a client. At the time, I found the product to have strong promise but a sense of not quite being ready for prime time at least for the audience I had in mind.

Meanwhile, Adobe bought the Australian-based company, gave it enough resources to get it to a fairly polished state, refined the business model, and integrated it fully with Dreamweaver. The result is the only tool I've discovered yet that supports the nearly code-free construction of fully integrated online businesses. It includes not only the expected page layout and site management capability, but full-blown email marketing integrated, sophisticated ecommerce integrated, customer relations management (CRM) integrated, and a whole bunch of other stuff that would require installing, configuring and maintaining third-party plugins in WordPress and other such products.

BC is aimed squarely at Web developers and designers. You can create a trial site for a prospective client while you work on his design and construction, then convert it to a paid site on which Adobe handles the billing and sends you anything above and beyond the BC monthly fee that you charge your client.

So far, i haven't found a single wall in this tool. And i've been looking. It supports jQuery JavaScript with no sweat. You can build Web apps without writing any server-side code (or much client-side code for that matter) and you can do all this with drag-drop-property assignment ease and simplicity.

I'm not what I'd call a fan yet and I do see that you have to buy into whatever limitations Adobe decides to insert into the product, but at least so far, I'm not finding any such limits to be onerous or even difficult. This may be the Holy Grail of all-but-code-free Web design and deployment for which I've been waiting.