Tablets And Mobiles Still Await Their Killer Web App

Google’s many recent announcements for music, movies, Chromebook, publishing and web apps underscore one thing – it is playing catch-up, trying to recreate the digital content landscape in the image of the web.

As Google (NSDQ: GOOG) goes on trying to show content owners they have more avenues than just the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) app route, two German developers have released a protoype magazine, Aside, which they say is “the world’s first magazine only made with HTML5”.

That’s not quite true – Sport Illustrated and Salon are amongst the publishers with web “apps” already on Chrome’s Web Store. But Aside‘s developers, who are trying to showcase their technology to publishers, nevertheless think harnessing the web could be a way to cost-effectively develop a single kind of cross-platform edition, consumed by readers of many and varied web-enabled devices.

It’s not a new idea. Earlier this year, automatically changed the designs of its 18 million hosted weblogs to function more like “apps” when viewed in iPad’s Safari. If Aside makes a splash, the pair of Berlin developers behind the prototype could become to web magazine app development what vendors like WoodWing, Adobe (NSDQ: ADBE), Siemens and others are to iOS magazine app development.

It’s an intriguing prospect – but Aside also highlights some of the lingering issues with its own premise. My experience of Aside shows that, despite its purported ubiquity, the web is not without its own fragmentation problems…

  • On my iPad, Aside simply doesn’t work. That’s because I’m not using the latest iOS 4.3, which it requires for its new, higher-performance Nitro Javascript engine, which makes its page-turns tick.
  • In fact, right now, Aside works exclusively on iPad’s web browser, and under under 4.3. Aside‘s developers said: “At the moment, we’re focusing on optimizing Aside for the iPad. But Android Honeycomb will definitely be one of the next steps.”

All this sounds terribly familiar, like the factional, splintered environment with which publishers and developers are already faced (build for iOS or Android or both?) – and brings us only a little closer to the idea, promised by Google and Aside, of a web-centric, platform-agnostic publishing platform.

For now, the prospect is also complicated by the fact that, in truth, there is no such thing as HTML5 – only a working paper that is still in development in time for full implementation by 2014. Reminiscent of the mid-90s browser wars, this is allowing browser makers to develop their own subtle interim customisations to the language – a fact decried last year by then BBC online chief Erik Huggers.

Once it gets optimized for other browsers and platforms, Aside – with its dynamic scrolling, fantastic photo viewing options and the rest of its bells and whistles – could be a fantastic sign of things to come on HTML5.

More mainstream companies that have, until lately, relied on mobile apps are finally now putting additional effort into their mobile websites, too. Twitter’s new mobile web interface, launched this week, is a zippy and useful way of interacting with the social network – which just happens to look exactly like the company’s official mobile app. It works nearly as well – but not as well (inputting text is slower, for one).

The qualifiers on all of the above underscore, unfortunately, the fact that mobile web may have yet to find its killer app, and why it is that app usage is still outpacing that of mobile web.