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Microsoft's Ben Lower, right, RIM's Morgan Belford and PinchZoom's Brian Fling

One of the big debates in the development world right now is whether mobile phone users will access games, books, music, news and other content via mobile browsers or through the application ecosystem pioneered by Apple and now a major link in the chain of Android and Windows Phone 7. Certainly, there’s a lot of momentum around apps right now, but the mobile web is not to be discounted.

At the Mobile Monday event in downtown Seattle earlier this week, four experts discussed the ups and downs of developing both for the mobile Web and native apps. Most agreed that the market, at least right now, is still very much one driven by the big app marketplaces. But changes are always on the horizon in the fast-moving mobile business.

Here’s each of their takes:

Morgan Belford, mobile developer at RIM/Gist:

“The nexus of innovation on each of the platforms is really their native tool kits. Even though faster processors in mobile handsets, bigger screens in mobile handsets and faster networks mean that the mobile web is going to get better on virtually all of the devices that are out there, innovation is going to happen faster on the native platforms themselves.”

He added: “I’d say there will be native apps for the foreseeable future…. I can’t see them going away, and I hope they don’t go away. We had sort of the dark ages of intellectual property … and we’ve had this renaissance now where people seem to give a damn about good applications. It is a platform where things are totally different, and I am hoping that is going to continue not go back down.”

Ben Lower, senior product manager for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7:

“I studied economics as an undergrad, and I can tell you that the answer is — most definitely — it depends. It really comes down to you as an entrepreneur or you as a company or you as a group in your company building something, you have to know what are the questions that you need to ask. Are you trying to monetize, yes or no? If so, how? Do you want to manage the overhead of all of those customers and payments, or do you want to offload that to a platform like iOS or Windows Phone Marketplace or the Android Marketplace. So, there are just so many factors that will inform you whether you are better off to go with HTML5 mobile Web or with a native experience.”

Brian Fling, founder of PinchZoom:

“I totally believe in the mobile Web. However, having been out there, and having pushed it to its limits, it is just not there yet.” The mobile Web, he said, is hurt by a lack of standards, a super competitive landscape and the rise of rich applications that consumers expect from Android, Apple and others.

Ten years ago, Fling said that developers struggled to create mobile experiences that worked on 40 different browsers.

“You just kind of got around it, but the problem was that we just created really shitty experiences that would work on all 40 of those browsers. But, now, the customer is so accustomed to these really rich experiences that that is really hard to do on all of the different browsers. So, I say the mobile Web of today is actually harder than it was 10 years ago when we had 40 different browsers to deal with.”

“Where is the SDK for the mobile Web? It is not as rosy as what I think a lot of people are saying now,” he said. “It is still really hard and it still takes time. It is not impossible. But, I think, people underestimate the amount of time it takes to do it right.”

Alex Donn, developer evangelist at AT&T:

“What I always tell the developers, is that it depends on what your application does. If you are developing something graphic-intensive, then maybe you might want to consider native…. But, at the end of the day, we usually push it into the land of the developer to make the decision.”

Here’s a chart from the event that breaks down the advantages of both mobile Web and native apps. What are you developing for?

Mobile Web

–Reach Larger Audiences.
–Lower Cost and Time to Market.
–Instant Updates.
–No Censor.
–Low Barrier to Entry


–Device-based Caching
–Immersive and Richer Experiences
–Stronger Engagement
–Discoverability and Marketing

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