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Dumb, smart, dumb, smart…have we finally figured it out?

By Warren Ganz

My Dad once told me that if you keep your clothes long enough, they'll eventually come back in style. As an 8-year-old, it didn't make much sense to me. Thirty years later, I now understand what he was saying and realize he wasn’t just referring to clothes.

Over the last 50+ years we've heard arguments for dumb clients vs. smart clients. In the ’60s, the dumb terminal was everywhere. In the ’80s, the PC took off and I remember seeing a cartoon of a PC computer chip with a caption "mainframe replacement." At the time I chuckled, and for the most part agreed. I thought "silly mainframes with dumb terminals, they are so dead, it's all about PC apps (smart clients).”

However, years later I found myself writing software for Netscape Navigator as the Web was born and we were back to dumb clients. I thought, "PC apps, you have to install them, update them, hope they install, what an annoyance. Long live the Web (and the dumb client)!”

Now, skip ahead to 2007, and the iPhone is born. Suddenly we're back to smart client apps that have to be installed and updated. But wait, isn't the mobile website updated automatically? Doesn't it offer a similar experience? Why download a weather app when there are numerous mobile websites that offer exactly the same information? Two reasons: better overall experience and discoverability.

So where do we go from here? Are we willing to accept and continue with the hassles of smart apps to gain a better user experience?

Fortunately, we may have found middle ground. The Web browser is not particularly dumb anymore…it's actually pretty smart. Just look at the Google Maps mobile website. Pretty impressive, right? It's an amazing user experience that doesn't have to be installed or updated, and is always up-to-date. As for discoverability, a quick look at what Google has done with their Chrome Web Store shows how they’ve taken care of that issue.

Why have I spent so much time thinking about this? Because we’re ready to take Inmagic Presto mobile, and we need to decide what is best for our users. Do we build a native app, a mobile website, or something in between, such as PhoneGap? The answer is pretty clear: a mobile website. With the developments of HTML 5 and the capabilities of modern mobile browsers, it just makes sense. It will be written once, available on every device, and always up-to-date with no need to download. Users will simply go to the URL and enjoy.

And it will even be smart!



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