Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked about API (development interfaces) for some of the web applications that exist today (Pownce being a huge focus as they just released their full API). Everyone has been big on Pownce releasing a full API because without it, the chances of competing with Twitter were extremely small. The main reason API’s are a big deal is because they allow people to build on the web application, in many cases creating a desktop application for that web application. Twitter is a perfect example of this. There are several desktop Twitter applications that allow users to follow and post to Twitter from their desktop, without ever having to visit the Twitter website. Why build desktop applications when web applications are getting more complex and essentially becoming full-featured applications in their own right? Are desktop applications important in a Web 2.0, software as a service world? I want to look at that a little bit today.
As I mentioned above, APIs have become important in today’s web world. People want their favorites sites to publish methods for developers to utilize and interact with the site. Twitter’s API is a perfect example of allowing developers to create features that many feel Twitter might be missing.
Twitter is not really a complicated website. In fact it is simplicity at its best. You type a message that is less than 140 characters, and you click the "update" button. Clicking that button sends that message to the masses. No fuss, no muss. There is no more to Twitter than that. However, Twitter released a full-featured application programmable interface (API) that allowed developers all over the world create functionality built on top of Twitter. Take for example the desktop application Twhirl.
Twhirl is a desktop Twitter client built on Adobe’s AIR runtime. The application is pretty nifty. You install it, feed it your Twitter login information, and off you go. You will receive updates from those you are following and you can post to Twitter. All without opening a web browser. This is just one example, and its relative to the heart of what I want to focus on today.
Why, when in a world where web applications are getting so sophisticated would you want desktop applications for those same web apps? To some people it just doesn’t make sense but there is value in desktop applications.
You see, not everyone can open a web browser all the time. A lot of times it is just a bad idea to open a web browser, especially at work. But there are times when you nee to access that all important web application when you can’t open a browser. Twitter for example is home to some interesting conversations, but it is not in my best interest to have Twitter open in a web browser all day. For one thing, it can be distracting. But with Twhirl, I can monitor Twitter activity and when a comment that I feel deserves a response from me pops up, I can quickly respond and get back to my work.
That is just one example, another is the Google Gear concept that allows users to run some of the more popular Google applications "offline" and from the desktop. This is a great concept and really shows that even though the web application is really cool, you might not be able to access it at all times. Allowing an "offline" desktop application to be used is a great method to keeping people connected to their data. Google Docs offers document syncing applications so that people can bring their online applications to their computers.
The ability to interact with a website or service without having to go to the webpage is becoming increasingly important even as web applications grow in functionality and sophistication. And as a result, a value is placed on having programmable interfaces that developers can build on. This also shows that, even though web applications are offering functionality, there is still a place for desktop applications in this day and age.
Does this mean that we will never move away completely from desktop applications? Personally, I don’t see that happening any time soon. The desktop is still where a lot of stuff happens and the general (read non-geek) public does not know about web applications or even understand them in some cases. They are use to desktop applications, they won’t use Google Docs because they have Microsoft Word installed and to them it doesn’t make sense to use Google Docs because its on the web. There are still a lot of folks out there who do not like going to a website to do anything, and they really don’t like the idea of having to keep a website open to keep up with things. This is where desktop applications come in real handy and why I don’t think we’ll see the end of them any time soon.