Opera Software CTO on apps and the future of web browsing

by Brad Spirrison

Opera Software on October 11 will be hosting the 2011 UpNorthWeb conference in Oslo.

Appolicious was invited to participate in the conference and will provide comprehensive coverage as to how Opera and others in the region are approaching the future of the web.

As a preview, we connected with Opera CTO Håkon Wium Lie to get his take on a myriad of subjects. Wium Lie, who helped develop the concept of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in the 90s and is very influential in the evolution of HTML5, shared his thoughts on native vs. web apps, how user consumption patters have changed since the rise of the app stores, and why browsers will trump mobile operating systems in the future.

APPOLICIOUS: Is it inevitable that native apps (meaning those that run on proprietary platforms like Android and iOS) and web apps (like what Google is proposing) will eventually converge into one standard?

Håkon Wium Lie: I believe that apps in the future will be written in web standards. There will still be native apps here and there, but most developers will write for the web first and foremost. The web will offer the same technical capabilities, and developers don't have to tie themselves to proprietary platforms.

APPO: Identify the biggest ways today web apps are superior to native alternatives.

HWL: The superiority of the web lies in its reach. The web runs on PCs, phones and tablets. Web apps can reach more people than apps that are tied to one specific OS.

APPO: What about cases where native apps are more relevant?

HWL: Proprietary platforms offer some capabilities that have not been available for web applications. For developers with specific needs, proprietary platforms may offer functionality that is isn't available on the web.

Yet.

But the web is quickly adding much-requested APIs. For example, in the past, only native apps could get the location of the user. This is now changing; the Geolocation API has been developed by the web community and is quickly being deployed in browsers.

At UpNorthWeb in Oslo, we will show -- in Opera, of course -- some other features that have been used by native apps in the past.

APPO: How profoundly have the iTunes App Store and Android Market changed user consumption behavior?

HWL: In the rich world, apps running on high-end devices have changed the lives of many. The apps have provided polished user interfaces to data that, generally, are fetched from the web. As such, web apps have much to learn from native apps.

APPO: What about developer behavior? Do you foresee a time (and if so when), when major game and media rich app developers create titles for HTML5 first?

HWL: Yes. Developers want three things: a big audience, a way to monetize the audience, and rich APIs.

For now, the web is a clear winner in only one of those three categories. However, there will certainly bepayment frameworks on the web, and we see the rich APIs emerging. For game developers, WebGL is of special interest. Within 12 months I think we’ll have commercial game titles developed specifically for the web.

APPO: Explain how the iPad and other tablet computers are impacting the evolution of native and web-based applications.

HWL: Tablets fill the gap between desktop/laptop computers and mobile phones; there is now a continuous range in screen sizes. This poses some challenges to developers. For example, developers can no longercode for fixed sizes, but must test on a wide range. On the web, Media Queries have been developed to make it easier for pages and apps to adapt the devices.

APPO: How do you see the mobile operating system landscape evolving over the next few years?

HWL: I don't know. And, perhaps it doesn't matter. There will always be operating systems in our electronic devices, but I think users in the future will face the browser -- not the OS which will be hidden underneath.

APPO: What are the three biggest trends in the mobile media space currently keeping you up at night?

HWL: For the last six months, I've been working on a pet project which has kept me up for many nights. I will be demoing it in Oslo on Tuesday. Hope to see you there!