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Re: ACTION-47: Draft a chapter outline of "What is a Web App?"

From: Tobie Langel <tobie@fb.com>
Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2012 21:27:05 +0000
To: Andrew Betts <andrew.betts@ft.com>, "LEONG, JENNIFER" <jl3101@att.com>
CC: "public-coremob@w3.org" <public-coremob@w3.org>
Message-ID: <CC4F2CA1.18DF6%tobie@fb.com>

On 8/13/12 12:22 PM, "Andrew Betts" <andrew.betts@ft.com> wrote:

>This is a great effort, if only to start a debate that needs to be
>had, because our view of a web app is very different to this.  I'll
>counter each of these points first and then give our definition:
>On 10 August 2012 05:33, LEONG, JENNIFER <jl3101@att.com> wrote:
>> Here is a stab at ACTION-47
>>(http://www.w3.org/community/coremob/track/actions/47), drafted by Bryan
>>Sullivan and I. Please let me know if this helps to define "What is a
>>Web App" at least within the context of the CoreMob requirements scope.
>> -----------------------------------------
>> What is a mobile Web app?
>> First, a mobile Web app is mobile.  That means that it is meant to be
>>used on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet.
>The question was actually 'what is a web app', and 'mobile' has snuck
>in there.  I'm not sure that's helpful, as web apps don't have to be
>mobile (see Chrome Web Store), and mobile doesn't have to mean
>smartphones and tablets (see netbooks with built in 3G).  We don't
>think the device you choose to use it on should affect whether we
>consider it to be an app or not.
>> Further, it is likely to be used in and between various network
>>environments, and usable
>> when the user's device is network-connected (online), or offline. It
>>may be expressly intended
>> for offline use only, requiring no network connection after being
>>loaded or installed.
>It's reasonably safe to say that a static website that adds a manifest
>so you can reliably view it when offline isn't an app.  So it feels
>like we're saying here that there is no definitive definition of a web
>app, but rather various things (like this offline point) add up until
>we reach some arbitrary 'bar' at which point we tip the scales into
>'app' territory.  In that case, it would surely be virtually
>impossible to reach a tangible definition.
>> Next, while being based on Web technologies (e.g. HTML, CSS, and
>>JavaScript), mobile
>> Web apps can be implemented using WebView APIs in a native code
>>wrapper, as installable
>> Web apps using various standards-based and proprietary app packaging,
>>or as Web browser-
>> based apps.
>I agree, but given that a) you could use a webview to load the worst
>website in the world, and b) we're not insisting on the webview
>wrapper as a pre-requisite for 'app-ness', this seems a moot point.
>> Mobile Web apps  may be loaded on-demand from a Web server, may use
>> installed or persistently cached Web content, or may use a combination
>> both installed/cached and on-demand Web content.
>This is de-facto true, since it allows for every possible option and
>doesn't mandate any or prohibit any, so it doesn't seem to narrow the
>> Mobile Web apps are typically single/special purpose rather than
>>general purpose apps.
>> They also focus on simple presentation and ease of user interaction,
>>leveraging diverse
>> forms of user input including touch, on-screen or dedicated keyboards,
>> and speech.
>I'm uncertain about what a 'general purpose' app would be, but
>otherwise agree that simple presentation and ease of user interaction
>is important to apps.  However, it could be seen as important to
>websites as well. I think we can drill down on this point a but more
>(see below).
>> Mobile Web apps are designed to work well in diverse environments and
>>device form
>> factors or orientations, and often use device information (e.g.
>>geolocation) to provide
>> a more contextually relevant user experience.
>I've seen a number of web apps designed purely for iOS, which don't
>really work on other mobile platforms and not at all on desktop.  But
>they're still apps in the sense that they feel the same as a native
>iOS app.
>Here is my take on what an app is.  First, I would say we need to
>ignore distractions involving technology choices - the very point of
>the web is that it is ubiquitous and ever evolving, so tying the
>definition to any concrete form of current technology is likely to be
>a bad idea.  The closest quantitative definition that I'd be
>reasonably happy with is that apps lack a page metaphor when moving
>between states.  A traditional website will, at every state change,
>load a new page.  An app does not (appear to) have the page concept at
>However, there are counter arguments to that as well, and I actually
>prefer a qualitative definition - an app is something that is designed
>for the user, which feels 'made for me'.  The problem with the web
>when the iPhone came along was that the sites didn't fit well on the
>screen and using them was fiddly, because they weren't made for the
>iPhone.  Apple released the iOS SDK so that third parties could build
>apps that were made for the iPhone, and as a result the user
>experience of those apps feels perfectly tuned for that device.  Any
>website that does the same, even if only for iOS, has become an app,
>in my view.  The great potential of using web technologies is that you
>can potentially make a single app which feels 'made for me' on several
>different platforms, by having it adapt automatically to the
>constraints and capabilities of the platform on which it is used.
>I would include desktop websites here as well.  It's become the norm
>to set a fixed width for a website, and make the design job easier as
>a result. But doing so means the site is no longer 'made for me' on
>any screen that doesn't match the fixed width that the developer
>chose.  For example, 'apps' from the Chrome Web Store tend not to make
>use of fixed width layouts nearly as much as the wider web does (for a
>specific example compare www.bbcgoodfood.com with
>In conclusion, I realise I've countered all of Jennifer's points and I
>really don't mean to devalue her draft, as the points made are all
>valid in a certain context, and it may well be that my view is the
>outlier because we see apps in a different context.  A few months ago
>I posted an article on the FT Labs blog trying to answer this very
>question, and for those interested, it makes roughly the same argument
>that I've presented here.

Think both of these definitions don't spell out clearly enough the task
oriented mindset that defines apps in general, regardless of whether
they're _Web_ apps or not.

>From Wikipedia[1]:

"Application software, also known as an application or an app, is computer
software designed to help the user to perform specific tasks."

>From the New Oxford American Dictionary:

"Computing a program or piece of software designed and written to fulfill
a particular purpose of the user: a database application."


[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_software
Received on Monday, 13 August 2012 21:27:34 UTC

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