Hi-Mark Software made its mark more than a decade ago, and Kevin Austin sold it to TRX in 2007. Concur now is shutting down what remains of Austin’s technology, and he’s back with something new. His Big Data Experts has created a platform for building mobile apps, going to market as ONEtechnology. They’re not just any mobile apps. They’re progressive web apps.
What are PWAs?
Readers may recall the battle between downloadable, native mobile applications and the mobile web. Part of the latter category, “responsive” websites are those built to render nicely on a computer display, a smartphone or anything between. They’re viewed through browser applications. This site uses responsive design.
For mobile websites, developers need not concern themselves with fees or approvals from Apple and Google. Updates happen immediately, and do not require downloads. For the user, mobile websites do not take up device storage space like native apps do. Some industry providers, such as Sabre’s GetThere, went with mobile web strategies instead of native apps. Short’s Travel Management this month announced a mobile-friendly version of its online booking tool, citing user frustration with “app overload.”
But mobile sites have significant drawbacks. They’re challenged to take advantage of device-specific capabilities. These include push notifications, geolocation and the camera (say, for receipt scanning). Native apps tend to offer a smoother, quicker experience, and more offline capabilities.
Building for multiple mobile operating systems is expensive. Yet, some providers moved to native apps for no more reason than that’s where consumer preferences went. Even if mobile websites suited many users’ needs, suppliers missed out on marketing if they were absent from iTunes or the Google Play store. Mobile websites would be bookmarked but forgotten, whereas native apps establish real estate on the device. (Websites can be represented by a home screen icon on most devices, but the user needs to take a step that may not be obvious.)
A third option, the hybrid mobile app, offers some of the best and worst of both.
Some developers, like HRG, started with a mobile web strategy but pivoted to creating native apps.
In 2015, technologists including a Google developer coined the term progressive web app. It describes a new kind of mobile website that is responsive, works offline, stays up to date, can be found through search engines and generally feels like an app. The short list of companies that have built PWAs includes Airberlin, Twitter and Uber.
PWAs so far work in the Google Chrome browser, but advocates noted big Apple news last week. An Apple representative indicated that a key aspect of the technology that would enable PWAs in its mobile Safari browser (called service workers) went from “under consideration” to “in development.”
“It looks like Apple is finally adding service workers in support of PWAs,” according to Austin. “I’m confident they will eventually embrace PWAs. We have our own proprietary technology that does much of what you can do with a service worker. It seamlessly deploys at runtime via our rendering engine if/when service workers are not available. This uniquely positions us to provide a rich PWA experience on Apple devices.”
DIY Web Apps: Possibly Huge
ONEtechnology has built prototypes for an entertainment site, a healthcare network and Dinova. Now meeting with other travel companies, it’s demoing a platform they can license for building their own progressive web apps. It plans to formally open for business in “very short order,” according to Austin.
The advantages are in cost and speed. Using the platform, there is no coding. Non-programmers can build apps using a point-and-click visual designer that connects to the data. Deployment and installation equals “zero,” said Austin. “Everything’s smaller.”
Showing the platform last week to The Company Dime, Austin said, “Clicking ‘Save,’ I have just deployed that change to every user worldwide on every device, immediately. Our marketing guy built the myDinova app in six days, part-time, with no training. My son, an intern from the University of Louisville, on Monday started building a healthcare app. We have a meeting Friday to show it.”
This week Austin claimed the prospect on Friday was astonished to be looking at a working app rather than a blueprint.
While ONEtechnology is open to hand-holding to start with, ultimately it’s providing a self-service platform. The company still is working out details of its recurring pricing model, but plans to charge only when clients build and deploy their apps.
Big Data Experts has 11 employees. It does other things for Dinova, but at the moment is only “pitching” the dining company on the app platform, Austin said.