More on App Development: A Conversation With Verve Wireless

Following the report released today on the decisions that mobile app developers face, I had the chance to talk to Verve Wireless CMO Greg Hallinan.

Verve works with top local media publishers (McClatchy, Media General, Freedom and Media Span) to power their mobile apps and help them with their mobile strategies. To add to the list of criteria outlined in the previous post, Hallinan adds that mobile platforms for his partners are chosen based on geographic penetration.

“You talk about reach; I just need to reach the audience that is relevant to a given partner,” he says. “In San Diego, there’s a fairly blended mix of devices that are on the mobile Internet. In Orange County, for the Orange County Register, it’s 85 percent iPhones.”

Apps in the Cloud

But beyond iPhone apps and native apps for other smartphone platforms, there are of course other mobile content formats that have more reach. Most of his partners are asking for SMS, he claims, because they understand it better. Others ask for iPhone apps because of the iPhone halo.

But an area to keep a close eye on, as explored in the aforementioned report, is “Web app” development. This is essentially a mobile Web page that acts like an app. Mobile Web pages historically have been simply WAP sites viewable on any phone with a mobile browser. But iPhone-like devices that can view full HTML Web pages are becoming more prevalent.

From that has comes a strategy many publishers have used: Instead of a resource intensive native app production, build a Web site that is optimized for iPhones or other smartphones. The advantages include less development muscle and greater reach. The disadvantages are requiring users to navigate to your site and less functionality than a native app.

But advancements in the world of mobile browsers are alleviating some of these deficiencies. We’ll see some of these come to life after next week’s iPhone 3.0 announcement. With respect to functionality, the HTML 5 standard that will be baked into the iPhone’s Safari browser will allow sites to pull in the user’s location and serve content accordingly.

This is the location awareness that’s currently reserved for native apps. “Self contained” functionality within Web apps will also be important to conduct mapping, SMS and other things that currently require leaving the browser to launch those apps separately. This will be good for local publishers, says Hallinan, in that it lowers the barriers for them to build better apps.

Pre-View

All these examples are mostly in terms of the iPhone, but they apply in different degrees to other devices and platforms. Running many functions at once, for example, is possible on — indeed a selling point of — the Palm Pre (and Android). Hallinan has played with the Pre a great deal in order to build apps for a few of Verve’s local publisher partners.

His verdict is that the device is all it’s cracked up to be and the Palm OS has a very sleek interface and beats the iPhone in some areas. Many professional reviews are also out from the likes of Walt Mossberg and David Pogue. Follow the previous links to read those and stay tuned for more commentary on the Pre.

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