Yesterday, I switched from the Android GMail client app to the web app because I was having some issues downloading messages on the client app. What I found surprised me: the web app is better than the client app. Google has been iterating on its web apps and the quality of the experience is sensational. It has shortcuts like client, is faster, and is available offline with Google Gears enabled.
Scouring through the news today, MySpace and Twitter both released updated web applications to cater to users who prefer to access their services on the mobile web. MySpace's app even has chat enabled.
Mobile web apps are suited to particular kinds of apps
You'll likely never play Eliminate Pro or Doom using a web app – passing these high quality, high frame rate games over a currently struggling network isn't viable. But other applications, like casual games, social networking, communication, news and utilities could all be web applications just as easily and effectively as they are client applications today.
The key in making most experiences as engaging as GMail is the adoption of HTML5.
HTML5 adoption on mobile browsers
Both Safari Mobile and Android browsers support HTML5, including local data caching. Compared to the web, this is night and day: more than 45% of mobile browsers support this feature; on the web it's closer to 10%.
The best part about HTML5 adoption mobile is it solves a key developer problem: device and operation fragmentation. There's a great overview of this issue at Daily Finance. Most smart phones have similar display sizes. By developing on standards, mobile web apps are write once, run anywhere. Should screen sizes be different, a different CSS is all a developer may need to accomodate a particular device.
Also, mobile web apps solve two other key problems of mobile developers: payments and distribution. Existing web based payment mechanisms can be used on mobile web apps, as can distribution technologies – we're no longer limited to iTunes store distribution and payments with a 30% tax on our revenues.
Application specific devices
Because the best of breed payment mechanisms including in app purchasing and iTunes accounts are found on the iPhone, because the hardware and software stack is homogeneous and because the processing power and development framework are so powerful, the iPhone will continue to dominate the gaming sector.
To compete, other mobile operating systems will need to rely on standards to provide a write once, deploy everywhere environment for applications, while satiating customers demands for varied handsets. Broad, standardized adoption of HTML5 combined with existing web distribution and payment technologies on a wide array of compelling handsets may give Apple a strong run for its money for non-gaming consumers.