Over the last few months, Google has been busy optimizing its free Gmail service for mobile phones.
In a post on the Google Mobile blog, the Gmail team highlights the various optimizations it has steadily been building into the mobile version of the webmail site. The result is a Gmail web app that exhibits many of the same behaviors one would expect from a native client application, and a site that now loads, according to Google, two to three times fasterthan it did eight months ago in April, 2009.
The biggest shift towards a faster, more sexy Gmail has been the proliferation of modern web browsers which support HTML5′s many advancements, according to Google engineering manager Alex Nicolaou, the author of Thursday’s post.
Mobile Safari, the Android browser, Firefox Mobile and Opera Mobile are thoroughly modern browsers that embrace the emerging HTML5 standard, and the fact that more people are using them on their advanced phones means that Google can serve out faster, more app-like versions of its web apps.
“So yes, HTML5 and the mobile web are clearly up to the task of building rich and powerful apps,” Nicolaou writes.
His comments come during what has been a week of intense debate among developers over which platform they should choose for their apps — native iPhone and Android apps, or the web.
Of course, the web has the greatest reach since it means you can gain users on every platform where a browser exists. Web apps have other advantages, but you sacrifice some key things when you go the web route — a richer user interface, advanced scrolling behaviors and animations, specialized layouts and fonts, offline access and interactions with hardware sensors on the phone.
The great promise of HTML5 is that it will do away with those limitations, giving developers the ability to put new types of advanced interactions into their browser-based apps.
HTML5′s arrival doesn’t quite signal the end of the downloadable, native application, but it does blur the line between the platform-based device operating system and the broader web operating system.
Google recognizes that as well.
“It’s also worth noting that as a worldwide mobile team, we’ll continue to build native apps where it makes sense,” Nicolau says. “But we’re incredibly optimistic about the future of the mobile web — both for developers and for the users we serve.”