Native Apps

Back in the early days of the PC, VisiCalc dominated in the spreadsheet market. Two rivals soon appeared called Context MBA and Lotus 1-2-3. The biggest advantage of Context MBA was that it was written in UCSD-Pascal, which gave it cross-platform capabilities. That meant you could run Context MBA on MS-DOS or CP/M-80. Since nobody knew which operating system would dominate, this seemed like a smart bet.

On the other hand, Lotus 1-2-3 only ran on MS-DOS. That seemed like a huge limitation except that Lotus 1-2-3 was optimized for MS-DOS so it ran extremely quickly while Context MBA ran much slower on every operating system. As history shows, the world chose Lotus 1-2-3 and left Context MBA in the dustbin of history.

That’s the difference between coding for cross-platforms or coding for a single platform and optimizing your app to run on that one platform. Use a cross-platform tool like Xojo or LiveCode and you’ll get suboptimal performance on every operating system. Use Xcode and Swift to create iOS or OS X apps and you’ll get optimal performance along with the ability to take advantage of every feature offered by Apple’s frameworks.

What’s the drawback? With Xcode and Swift, you can’t make cross-platform programs that might run on Windows, Linux, or Android. That means you have to bet that iOS and OS X will be the platforms of growth just like Lotus 1-2-3 bet that MS-DOS would be the platform of growth.

In hindsight, Lotus 1-2-3 made the right choice. Today, it’s easy to see that iOS dominates the mobile market with the iPhone and iPad, and OS X is steadily growing as Macintosh sales steadily creep upwards while PC sales gradually decline.

Windows and Android represent huge markets, but iOS and OS X represent growing markets. Remember, at one time CP/M-80 was the dominant operating system and MS-DOS was the upstart. Obviously Lotus 1-2-3 bet on the upstart and won big, while Context MBA hedged their bets and lost all the way around.

The lesson of Context MBA and Lotus 1-2-3 is that native apps optimized for a specific operating system will give you greater performance. You just have to make sure your’e betting on the right platform.

Since iOS dominates the mobile market with the iPhone and iPad, it’s obvious that iOS will remain lucrative. Although Windows dominates the desktop computer market, it’s also easy to see that OS X growth is continuing, so there will be a steadily growing market for OS X programs.

Since mobile computing is growing rapidly and represents the future, it seems safe to say that iOS is the future. So decide what’s more important to you: cross-platform or native and optimized performance. Judging from the past of Context MBA and Lotus 1-2-3, it seems likely the answer will always be native, optimized apps.

To read a short history of Context MBA, click here.

November 3rd, 2015 by
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