Developing for the iPhone OS: App Store vs. Web Apps

If you're coding for the iPhone or iPad, you have to choose

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Distributing internal native apps also requires provisioning all iPhone OS devices within the organization with security certificates indicating that those devices are allowed to run internal apps. While the current iPhone OS doesn't make deploying either the security credentials or the apps themselves as quick and easy as most systems administrators would like, it can be done.

And it's slated to become much simpler with iPhone OS 4.

Another option for enterprise environments that utilize terminal services such as Citrix are iPhone and iPad apps that allow access to virtual desktops and applications. For an organization already using such technology, products like the Citrix Receiver deliver the same level of access as a Mac, PC or other thin client. (Citrix Receiver is free in the App Store and includes demo environments for evaluation purposes.) The small screen size of the iPhone and iPod Touch imposes some limitations, though Citrix and third-party companies provide a range of ways to present data and enterprise apps in a smartphone-oriented format that can also be used with other mobile platforms, including Android, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile.

For many organizations, though, a thin-client approach might work best with the iPad. In fact, most of the medical field use of the iPad so far seems to revolve around Citrix for the ease of integration and compliance with security requirements related to HIPPA. Although the medical field seems to be pioneering these moves, they can easily be applied to a range of businesses seeking easy integration while providing secure access to data without physically storing it on the device.

Choosing the best approach

Obviously, the right answer for any individual or company depends on a variety of factors, chief among them the skills available and the ultimate goals for the app(s) they want to produce. For many, the goal of developing a task-oriented app or game will mean developing a native app for the App Store; others who are looking to focus on distribution of content, interoperability with other mobile platforms, and integration with existing systems, will find that a Web app more easily meets their needs.

There is no definitive answer for every person or company looking to provide content, solve a problem, offer entertainment or even make money, but weighing the pros and cons of each approach can shed light on the best avenue for a particular project:

Web Apps vs. Native Apps

Pros Cons
Web Apps
Fast development, easy deployment, rapid testing Limited development tools
No need for developer program membership Cannot access full range of iPhone OS and hardware features
Freedom from App Store restrictions and review Do not offer direct sales revenue or access to iAd
Most features can be adapted to other platforms Require web server hosting and related costs
Secure connections enable access to data without storing on device No full application data storage on device
App Store
Ability to showcase and monetize apps through App Store Must get Apple approval (for nonenterprise apps)
Access to iAd, in-app purchases, game center, and other Apple-provided methods for further monetizing apps Each new version must be approved again
Full range of Xcode development tools including testing/debugging Requires knowledge of Objective-C and Apple's Cocoa frameworks and related APIs as well as familiarity with Xcode development tools
For enterprise members, the ability to develop internal tools with full access to iPhone OS tools and APIs, and distribution without the App Store Development must be done on a Mac OS X computer
Cost of developer program membership

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. His most recent book is iPhone for Work, published by Apress. You can find more information at and can e-mail Ryan at

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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