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Pull your head out of your App

(A blog about Animal Welfare?)

Remember when Microsoft Word was delivered on a CD and had to be installed? So many license keys and updates. Ugh. Thankfully, installing software is a practice swiftly becoming a part of our past. I’m writing this now in Word Online compliments of Office 365, a comprehensive online version of every Microsoft product I ever needed (and then some).

When Google came out with the Chromebook, a laptop that consists of little more than a well-built Internet browser, they were way ahead of the game...and rightly so. The world of installed “native” software has given way to web-based applications. Just by connecting to the Internet, the Chromebook has all the latest apps, latest versions, and everything you create is backed up and protected as you work.

In the PC world, the move to web-based is a foregone conclusion (yes, your Mac is a PC too).

But where does this leave smartphones and tablets? The transition hasn’t been the same for mobile apps, at least not as clearly. When it comes to our smartphones, we are ever demanding.

Our apps must be “red-light” responsive and silky smooth in operation. Anything less and we don't hesitate to uninstall the offending app.

In the past, slower and less stable connections and smaller onboard memory favored installed/native apps. That’s because native apps store all the heavy content they need (graphics, images & code) on the actual device so information exchanged over the device’s connection is minimal. This translates to a smooth and snappy user experience almost regardless of connection quality.

Today, however, our mobile devices have ample short-term memory, packets of information delivered over the internet are smaller, connection speeds are faster, and latency has decreased.

The number of hybrid and pure web-based apps making their way into the mobile app market is increasing daily. Looking ahead, there are two notable (and exciting) developments that together threaten the very existence of native apps. That’s right, the app store’s days are numbered.

First is the rise of Progressive Web Apps (PWA). PWA’s are basically a mobile app delivered through a web browser. Due to use of an “app shell” and pre-caching (proactively storing resources in your browser memory) and other technologies, the PWA can function just like a native app. It can be saved to your home screen and even allows the same gestures and navigation as native apps. If done well, users cannot tell the difference between a native app and PWA.

Second, in 2018/2019 we are beginning our trek into the post-smartphone era of 5G mobile connectivity. That’s a big topic for another day. Suffice it to say 5G speeds will initially be 50% faster than current mobile speeds. Here’s the clincher: over the next five years it is expected 5G will offer speeds of up to 1Gbps – ON YOUR MOBILE SMART DEVICE. That’s roughly 20x faster than the fastest cable internet connections. The impact of this change is so great many expect smartphones will be phased out in the next decade (think “smart-glasses”).

Speed aside for the moment, you might be wondering why web-based applications are desirable over installed software in the first place. That is at the heart of this article and the reason One Earth Research & Conservation App (OERCA) is investing in Progressive Web-App technology now.

For starters, PWA’s do not require anything to be installed. They don’t take hard-drive space and they don’t need managed updates (no more iTunes or Google Play Store). Simply launching the web app and logging in displays the most recent version.

They’re also more efficient than installed software as they work “on-demand” and are always accessible no matter what device you’re on (or borrowing). No more tough decisions about which app to keep and which to uninstall.

But one of the sexiest, coolest and most exciting attributes of PWA’s is contained in a single word: interoperability. Excusing the tech jargon (and yes, I used sexy to describe tech), interoperability describes the ability of applications to easily and seamlessly work together even if they are developed by completely different companies. This is possible with web-applications and PWA's because they are all built for the same unified platform – the web browser.

Presently the OERCA system makes use of two interoperable applications and will soon be adding a third integration that I believe will become a bonafide game changer in animal welfare management. By leveraging interoperable applications, we take full advantage of a highly specialized powerhouse feature someone else spent millions of dollars perfecting and bring that value direct to our end-users with little effort.

The most powerful new development in animal welfare management is the technology with which we manage information. It is real-time functional analysis fueling our ability to improve stewardship of the world in which we live and the animals we love.

At OERCA, we’re fond of the saying, “plan with your head, apply with your heart.” 

Ten years ago, the professional animal field was light years behind when it came to information technology. Now we are close to a day when field biologists, animal keepers, aquarists and caregivers of all types can record and react to information in real-time via augmented reality.

That sounds crazy, but the day is coming sooner than you think. Progressive Web-Apps are an evolutionary step in being ready. In my view, hands-free data management can’t come to the professional animal field soon enough. I’m proud of where we are today; proud for OERCA and for the world of zoological sciences, our last best hope. There is only One Earth.


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