Web Apps that can Replace Native Apps on your Smart Phone or Tablet

Cineplex Web Site

I’ve recently read about a few people trying to replace many of the apps on their phone with a web app or web site. So it got me thinking about what I could do on my phone and tablet.

There’s a few advantages to using browser-based web apps instead of native apps.

Web Apps vs Native Apps

Web Apps vs Native Apps

1. Most important is improved security and privacy
2. It reduces the pollution in your system
3. And they take less space

Obviously there’s a trade-off and there’s some disadvantages too.

  1. Limited access to the device’s hardware except GPS
  2. No notifications without third party work-arounds
  3. Non-native interface that’s inconsistent with the rest of your system

There were a few other nice little things about web sites/apps: you can often bookmark your favourite location in the site and always open it directly there; and integration with the PWMP app is smoother. Some little things that annoyed me were the lack of decent icons, and browsing away from the app then having to find my way back (assuming a link opened in the same window).

Security and Privacy

Web apps run within the browser’s sandbox, and as long as you trust your browser, so they won’t scour your contacts, photos, and anything else on your device and send it all back to the mothership for further scrutiny.

This is the reason why I’m already using three web apps rather than the native versions. The STM app, Cinema Guzzo app, and [P$ Mobile app][psm] (for Montreal’s parking meters) for some reason want access to my photos and media!? The Cineplex app pretty wants access to my whole digital life!!!

Three of the aforementioned apps also offer purchases (movie tickets or parking) so I need to enter my credit card information into them. I have no guarantee how they handle it or store it on my device. And I’d rather not find out later that something otherwise innocuous has access to that information via one of those native app’s config or cache or something.

Pollution

These apps won’t add anything else to your system a part from the home screen short-cut you yourself added. So you won’t find a dozen new widgets or have to scroll through all kinds of sharing choices to find the one you always want. And you won’t find left-over directories littering your filesystem three months after you un-install the app!!!

I do all my sharing through WordPress so I have no need for Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, or any other social network in my sharing menu. And I’m not that interested in their widgets either. There is some functionality from a couple of those that is interesting, particularly automagical photo backup and comprehensive browsing, but I suggest PicsPro and QuickPic as light-weight, efficient alternatives.

Space

Space will always be finite. No matter how much more they add you’ll always find something to fill it with – photos, movies, apps, or something. With web apps at least you won’t have to worry about having to choose between an app or something else.

The most annoying thing I found when going through my apps and seeing which ones were available as web apps was that some had horrible or even no icons. While others had nicer icons than some native apps – like Player FM.

Some specific apps

Some of the apps I specifically targeted for webificiation, beyond the big social networks and the egregious privacy violators I listed earlier there was also Vine, Varage Sale, WordPress, DropBox, Gmail, Google Calendar, GitHub, NetVibes and Wikipedia. I’ve already mentioned Player FM but it’s worth mentioning them again.

I purposely avoided Google Drive and it’s suite of apps because I know how foolish it is try and write documents, spreadsheets, or presentations on a phone! Native or web app, it makes no difference. I’ve tried!!!

The big social networks, as well as Vine and Varage Sale, work quite nicely as web apps. Obviously there’s no notifications or way to share directly but I’m good with that. With Vine you loose the ability to record those funky videos, so it’s only realistic if you’re simply following people.

I know I said writing on a phone wasn’t realistic but I tried WordPress on the web anyways since I use it a lot for quick status, link, and image posts. On mobile web it works perfectly but it’s not really functional. WordPress is a powerful platform, and to access all that power requires a lot of screen real-estate which just isn’t there on a phone’s screen and their web app doesn’t manage that effectively.

DropBox is an interesting one. The functionality of the DropBox app itself is one thing. But with their API a lot of other apps have already included the same or similar functionality. If you’ve got something like ES File Explorer or Folder Sync then you’ve got a great DropBox client already.

I had to include something of the normal Google Apps so I wasn’t just picking on Google+. It turns out Gmail and Google Calendar work great as web apps. When you get to these web sites they also include links to other Google web sites/apps so can easily see what else they offer.

NetVibes is exciting because, like Player FM, their web app is the priority. In fact, they don’t even have a native app on any platform! Netvibes is a great replacement for Google Reader and a viable replacement for iGoogle.

An app that should really be replaced with a mobile web site is Go Comics. It is pure consumption and there’s no benefit to having native app at all! There is a mobile web site but it doesn’t support logging in so you can’t see the comics in your collection.

Cross posted on Schultzter’s Blog

1 comment

  1. The problem is still that mobile browsers are a pain to use. Inconvenient auto-zooming, placement of ‘popups’ are all reasons we flocked to apps in the 1st place. I have one site that I can’t use, because as soon as I want to type something the browsers all auto-zoom, making the field fly off the screen.