M-Learning: Google vs Apple as Web Apps square off against Native Apps
Google and Apple appear to have different outlooks on mobile application development, and those differences will certainly have an impact on how we consume mobile content. According to this BusinessWeek.com article, Two Mobile Software Visions, each company is preparing to leverage their strengths with a distribution model that corresponds with those strengths.
Apple is very strong in the native app market, where it’s App Store is a marketplace for all sorts of applications. Users download the applications to the iPhone and take advantage of that native functionality, storage and performance that comes with being on the device itself.
Google is very strong in the web-based application market and it domintates the search advertising that goes along with it’s web focus. Google is betting that Web-based applications that use the strength of networks and servers will be the future of mobile content consumption.
But both companies overlap in certain places. iPhone applications often link out to external services and resources and Google’s Android applications are native on the Android open source operating system (Google also has an Android market place, much like the Apple App Store). Google plans to push Web-based applications in the months and years to come and Apple will probably continue to push it’s App Store applications. Ultimately, it comes down to money. Apple makes approx 30% on each application it sells from the App Store and Google makes billions of dollars with it’s ad revenue from search and Google Ads.
As mobile consumers, we will have to make choices about how we want to consume our content. In the world of education, much of the content resides on the Web. Most of our Learning Management Systems are web-based and offer limited functionality offline. However, it can be argued that eLearning really got of the starting blocks with CD roms, which are more representative of the native-app model in my opinion. If the evolution of eLearning has been from native pc applications (CDs and disk based) to Web based applications, the question is, will that be the way that mobile learning goes? If so, you might say that Apple is re-hashing the hold model and Google is pushing the new model. BUT, I don’t think it’s that simple.
I think that Apple is leveraging the strengths of an on-device application in an age where connectivity to mobile networks is still spotty in many places, while allowing for connectivity when and where applicable and desired. Apple is also selling the iPhone as a platform and pushing too much to “the cloud” would be somewhat self-defeating. Google is setting itself in a position of strength in the Web-based market because that’s where it’s strengths are and it doesn’t produce hardware, so a physical platform is not attractive to Google.
We will see mobile learning in a variety of forms, some will be native applications and others will be Web applications. If I had to bet though, I would favor the Web-based model because it’s the most natural fit for the current eLearning architecture. Re-purposing your Web-based LMS courses to run on a mobile browser will be an easier transition for companies and learning institutions. There are also more developers with the skill sets required to build mobile Web applications since those skills are in many ways a subset of traditional Web development. More developers along with ease of transition will make the Web-based application the winner in my opinion. Both the iPhone OS and Google’s Android have good Web experiences on their respective mobile devices, so both should continue to be platforms that we will target for mobile learning. Overall, I think most content will be Web-based.