Tuesday, January 28, 2014

JavaScript & Uncorrected Video

There is this continuing debate that rages in tech circles: If you're going to make an app, should it be web or native? The true answer, of course, is that it depends. I'm a web guy, though, so when I enter the fray, it's generally on that side.

The common perception of web tech is that it's easier, but produces inferior results. You can slap something together in a fraction of the time, but it's not going to have that slick, polished quality you expect from native apps.

It all reminds me of the old film vs digital thing the movie industry went through a while ago. I was working in Hollywood at the time, and there was a lot of buzz about the liberating potential of digital video, but also a lot of criticism of its inferior quality.

Well, to some extent it was inferior, because it was still young, but there was more than that at play. The thing is, when you shoot film, you have to get it developed, and part of this process is making sure the colors came out right, and you get the tonal range you want, etc. Without that color correction step, film looks horrible, unusable. With video (digital or otherwise), you can skip that step; uncorrected video isn't great, but it's not as horrible as uncorrected film. So, since you can skip it, lots of people did, and video got this reputation for having that bland, washed out look. Over time, however, people clued in, and now tons of movies are shot on digital, but they're always color corrected. At this point, film and digital are virtually indistinguishable to the viewer, and what the cinematographer uses is more just a question of personal taste than any technical consideration.

Back in JavaScript land, we have a similar situation. The technology is still young, so it was pretty bad not that long ago. Like digital video, it's liberating; your app can run anywhere, and you can get started with a set of simple tools. The fact that it's easier, however, gives us the uncorrected video problem: people who don't know what they're doing can still create JavaScript apps. They may be crappy apps, but they work. With a native app, there's a higher bar; if you don't know what you're doing, you're likely to not end up with anything usable at all. The native apps that survive generally have a decent level of quality.

But when someone who really knows what they're doing builds a JavaScript app, you can get the flexibility you expect from the web and the polish you expect from native, just like digital video can look great if you bother to color correct it. For me, that's the best of both worlds, though of course your mileage may vary.

My favorite example of a slick mobile web app is Forecast.io (at least on the iPhone). I'm doing my best to walk the talk as well with Driftory and Gimme Shiny, both of which work great on mobile.


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