Why do we need mobile clients like the SAP NetWeaver Mobile client? Every mobile device will be sooner or later permanently connected to the network – Wi-Fi and 3G networks will make it possible and prices will fall. So should we say good bye to client applications and focus on the web browser only? I think not!
There are multiple reasons for this; I just want to cover five of them.
First, I think we will never ever have a 100% network coverage. 3G will maybe be available in 90% of Germany or the UK, but not in large countries like the USA or Canada. And even if – there are still locations where you will not have access. I was more than once at a costumer and my 3G connection was not working. Many office windows are coated with a very thin layer of lead – to block sun rays. Unfortunately they block 3G signals as well – and opening the window is not always a solution, especially not in winter when it is snowing. Another problem can be machines that block the signal. And many other reasons …
The second reason is the usability. Browser based applications will never be as good and user friendly as rich client applications. Look for example on the iPhone – why do you think Apple implemented YouTube and Google Maps as client solutions instead of using the browser? Because of the usability. On Windows Mobile, Blackberry or Symbian devices, fat client applications can use the hardware buttons of the device, something that is hard to implement with a browser based application.
Reason number three is the performance. If you want to load large amounts of data, it can be hard to do that via a web application. If you have to load the data only from the storage of the local device, it goes a lot faster. And even if you load the data from the server via a RESTful or SOAP WebService, a rich client will display it faster. Look at the performance of the Pocket Internet Explorer – it is really bad. Even loading a static html page from the local device can take ages … There will be better browsers, Apple and Opera show that it is possible, but still I believe that you can’t beat a optimized fat client.
Number four in the list is that the data is business critical. You don’t want to be big trouble just because there is no network coverage at the customer and you don’t have access to the sales data from the CRM system. Or a machine is broken and the repair needs four instead of one hour just because you can’t access the repair history that would help you to spot the issue faster.
And the last reason – number five – is that you can’t have push if you only use the web browser. Mobile Push of all kind of data is one of the most important features for mobile applications. Users want to be informed about new orders, notifications and the status change of their business processes instead of having to look actively from time to time. Why do you think Blackberry is so successful? Because they created the perfect email push solution. This is a killer feature and it requires a client installation of some type.
As much as I love browser based solutions on my laptop and pc, I think there will be always client installations that I will use in parallel to the browser. It will be the same way with mobile devices.