An article in ArsTechnica takes issue with the current app-centric mobile ecosystems,and argues for more focus on web apps. Larry Seltzer protests about “platform lock-in and the space the apps take up on the device. Updating apps is a pain that users often ignore, leaving broken or vulnerable versions in use long after they’ve been allegedly patched. Apps are also a lot of work for developers—it’s not easy to write native apps to run on both Android and iOS, never mind considering Windows Phone and BlackBerry.” But is this really a problem? And how would the solution look for ereaders?
Seltzer points to the impetus in the HTML5 standard, “backed strongly by Google and Mozilla. . . for websites to be able to do anything that native apps can.” This way, you have “nothing to install and automatic updates. Because of this, Web apps take up next to no persistent storage, leaving more room for music, videos, other persistent data and cache.”
Leave aside for now the online/offline problem. Google in any case has been working hard at making its Chrome OS a more capable offline OS. But that points up exactly why, as Seltzer complains, “Apple has been slow to adopt the standards that make a powerful mobile Web possible.” Google owns so much of the web-based space already, through Chrome, the Chrome OS, the Google Docs suite of online apps, etc. Certainly you can see why Apple would rather keep developers penned within its revenue-rich walled garden.
For the major ebook players, though, I could see web-based platforms working pretty well. Amazon already has a perfectly workable Kindle Cloud Reader for web-based use. It may lack a bit of the functionality of the full Kindle apps, but since when have those been Amazon’s strong suit anyway, compared to the Kindle Store and Amazon’s back end? DRM management, policing of libraries, marketing-focused data crunching, and Amazon’s other more intrusive policies might even be easier this way. Google, meanwhile, has a web-based approach in play, literally, in the shape of Google Play Books, plus a browser-based OS already tried and tested for ereading in the shape of Chrome OS, with a slew of ereader apps already rolled out for it – Readium, dotEPUB, Cloud ePub Reader with Drive, etc. Third party ereader developers, meanwhile, shouldn’t have much problem coding in HTML5.
Perhaps not Apple’s ideal future. But then with iBooks and Safari, they should be able to pull something together too. Ebook readers overall should have little to fear. After all, any halfway decent browser ought to be able to render ebook text, online or off.