Distributing a Web-based application is supposed to be easier than relying on the platform-makers’ app stores. Apple and Google are creating walled gardens, the Web is a bastion of freedom — stop me if you’ve heard this one before. In practice, however, distributing Web-based applications can be even more of a hassle than relying on native ones, especially if the apps are meant to be used only by certain people, such as employees at an enterprise company.
Sencha, an HTML5 framework developer, is today announcing its attempt to solve that problem, Sencha Space. The service, which is available as a beta product and will operate on a freemium model, is both a secure application for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry devices and an administration console that makes it easy to control who gets access to a company’s Web application, and which Web-based apps those people are able to use on their devices.
The employee-facing client is essentially a Web browser that is controlled and monitored by the user’s employer. After entering their login credentials, users are able to access a series of approved apps which, if their employer has decided to take advantage of Sencha’s frameworks and SDKs, might behave differently than they would in a consumer Web browser. Employers are able to control who can access their Web-based applications, employees can continue using any device Sencha Space supports, and Web apps might be more powerful than they would be on their own.
This might seem to conflict with the feel-good openness often associated with Web technologies and, to an extent, it does. Employers developing applications specifically for Sencha Space isn’t any more “open” than employers developing applications for iOS or Android and leaving their Windows Phone users in the dark. In truth, however, Sencha seems to be highlighting the convenience with which developers can build apps for multiple platforms using Web technologies, not the “ra-ra fight the power” mentality typically associated with the tech.
“It’s becoming increasingly important that developers can write codebases that will last for years and will be compatible with the most popular device of that year,” says Sencha CEO Michael Mullany. The days of handing out company BlackBerrys and forcing employees to purchase a separate device if they want to escape their company-issued pebbles are over, and it’s easier to develop for Android, iOS, Blackberry, and other platforms capable of supporting Web technologies (see: all of them) than it is to develop a native application for each.
The Web, beyond being a symbol for democracy and meritocracy and freedom and whatever else is projected onto its series of URLs and Web pages, is a capable applications platform. Sencha Space isn’t quite as “free range applications” as other products and services reliant on Web technologies — it’s simply a pragmatic approach to app distribution meant to save companies a little money.