Thursday, October 14, 2010

4 Game-Changing Trends in Web App Design

Web applications are one of the greatest revelations of the Internet. It’s a development that is largely specific to the Web 2.0 era, but their significance will be in effect for generations.

The web app is a signifier of a fundamental shift in computing. It’s representative of the cloud and our newfound ability to decentralize our technical lives and spread ourselves across desktop computers, mobile devices and pretty much anything else connected to the Internet.

But web apps are driven by trends, and trends move fast. So if you’re slaving away on a mobile app, here are four trends that you might want to consider before coding yourself into irrelevance.

1. Location

It’s not that location started with Foursquare, but it took Foursquare’s simple badge system to make the world pay attention. If your web app isn’t location aware, people are far less likely to be aware of it. With web juggernauts like Facebook launching Places and Google shifting product rockstar Marissa Mayer to location and local services, it’s safe to bet on geolocation.

These days, it’s easier than ever to to make your app location aware. HTML5 features a native location protocol (try finding yourself with an HTML5-compliant browser), and with a few easy lines of JavaScript, your app can be pegging latitudes and longitudes in no time. And, according to SimpleGeo’s Andrew Mager, HTML5’s location protocol is doubly useful for mobile web apps, because it doesn’t hog battery resources by constantly running GPS.

2. Data Portability

Internet dwellers have railed against the classic walled gardens of the web for years. It stands to reason then, that as we entered the Web 2.0 era, developers should have been prepared for this. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case and, while your data is your data, there was a long period where you could only use it in the place it was created.

Now, there has been a gradual shift toward portability and many of the once guilty parties are taking steps to enable you to take your data with you wherever you choose. Services like Posterous have strongly pushed the envelope here in getting developers to ease up, but those initiatives were still, in several cases, stonewalled.

It wasn’t until October 6, when Facebook got hip to data portability, that this became a true trend. That announcement should be considered a death knell to any web app hoping to make a buck while keeping user data proprietary.

3. Mobility

It’s happening so fast that it’s hard to see the lines beginning to blur, but web apps and mobile apps are becoming indistinguishable from one another. Sure you can install an app on your Android or iOS device, but some of the best mobile implementations have avoided coding unique apps and focused on the mobile functionality of their web apps.

Perhaps the most shining example of this transition is Shaun Inman’s Fever. This RSS reader installs directly on your web server and is arguably the best RSS reader on the face of the planet. It’s also fully functional on most modern mobile devices by simply visiting the same URL that you’ve set the reader up on. No extra lifting, just one unified experience.

4. HTML5

It might not be completely ready for primetime yet, but if you’re not preparing for HTML5, you’re preparing for obsolescence. Incorporating features that make many of the oldest bastions of web plugins redundant, HTML5 is the future of the web. Video playback, geolocation, drag-and-drop media and more are all built-in.

When the the World Wide Web Consortium finally ratifies the HTML5 standard, you’ll probably start hearing more talk of Web 3.0 than you can possibly stand.

These four trends are some of the biggest ones in the web app world right now. Add your own thoughts on trends that are revolutionizing the way we create and use web apps in the comments below.


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