Gmail upgrade heralds leap for mobile web apps

Google announced a series of improvements for Gmail messaging services running on iPhone and Android devices, although the more significant news may be the underlying technology powering the interface upgrade, which the web services giant said promises the development of more robust mobile web applications. On the Official Google Mobile Blog, engineer Joanne McKinley writes that the Gmail revamp accelerates actions including opening email, navigating and searching; in addition, new browser technologies like HTML5 and Gears enable users to read and compose messages over poor or non-existent network connections (an update informally announced by Google vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra during a keynote appearance at Mobile World Congress 2009 in February). "The full impact of this new architecture isn't visible yet, but it will enable us to significantly improve performance and quickly roll out new features in the near future," McKinley writes.

According to MIT Technology Review, the Gmail upgrade could herald a significant new trend in mobile application development by creating browser-based applications that look and feel like apps downloaded directly to devices, effectively revolutionizing how developers distribute their software and how consumers purchase it. "From the user's point of view, one of the problems with the App Store is discovery of content and apps," says analyst Chetan Sharma. "It could be easier to discover mobile software living outside the App Store using a browser." Sharma adds that the mobile web affords developers far greater control over application distribution, software updates and revenues, but notes that mobile web apps will suffer from limited capabilities, at least for the near future: "Apps that will work in this environment will be more text-heavy or static," Sharma says. In addition, the Gmail upgrade leverages browser capabilities available in only a few devices, specifically the iPhone, iPod touch and Android smartphones.

For more on Google's mobile web app aspirations:
- read this MIT Technology Review article

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