What’s NIWEA?

  • Hannes Gassert

This is an idea I had mind in since last year, and finally was convinced to put online these days. Hoping you'll like it, Hannes


If anything about current web development can be called «glamorous»[1], it’s creating applications for en vogue platforms such as the iPad or the latest line of Android phones. After all, they're not only super sexy, but the rate of progress we see is staggering as well - a pretty tempting combination.

At the same time, web technology is constantly taking up more and more speed, progressing on many levels at an exceptional pace. Standards such as HTML5 and CSS3 as well as their support in transformative tools such as Webkit have been helping web user experience improve dramatically and at a much greater rate than the progress we have seen on any "desktop" environment - which almost stagnated for a decade.[2] And let's not forget: seeing the speed of JavaScript engines improving by orders of magnitudes clearly means: something important is happening here.

This blog entry is trying to deal with the great deal of stuff that's happening when these two ongoing developments -amazing devices and accelerating web tech- come together. That «stuff» we see out there has such as breadth, depth and scale that we shall be trying to get from stuff to patterns, and then give them names. Names that help us actually have clearer conversations about those things as they develop, like folks did with «AJAX», «RIA» or «Web 2.0». The name we're suggesting is NIWEA - Native Interoperable Web Apps. Let's see what this means:


«Native», the N in NIWEA, is a word that has been bended and stretched for years. We'll use it in just two simple ways:

  • «Made for this thing» - native apps just do feel right - on your desktop, your mobile, your tablet, your TV.
  • «No crutches» - web native apps use use the tech and specs of the web - bred through open standards, no plugins, no add-ons.

«Native» also means access to the capabilities of the underlying platform: sensors, geolocation, graphics, storage, background computations, audio, video - you name it.

In the example sections there's an whole array of examples illustrating this point, runtime environments such as PhoneGap, systems like Jolicloud, native user experience enablers like jQTouch, Google's Store for Installable Web Apps are certainly amongst those that must be mentioned.


«Interoperable» can mean a lot as well, but it's a strong notion, and one that keeps getting more and more important. The «I» in NIWEA means two things:

  • «Works with my sites» - NIWEA can be standalone, but mostly they'll be talking, synchronously or asynchronously, to web APIs. APIs based on web standards that have interoperability built in, enabling mashups
  • «Works with my gadgets» - another kind of interop, the "write once, run anywhere" idea. Indeed, web technology is the only platform I see that has the potential to overcome the terrible fragmentation we see in mobile platforms these days. Being the only platform without an owner certainly helps.

Interoperability between devices and consistent communications between applications - browser engines, REST & Co. can do it.


NIWEAs are built using web technology, and nothing else - but «web» doesn't mean exclusively «browser» any more. And «web» doesn't mean «online only» any more either. In fact we're going more and more towards what you might want to call an «ubiquitous web», with the browser engine becoming the universal runtime.


The are many ways NIWEA bring application functionality to you, be it packaged Web OS, Chrome Store or HTML-based Adobe AIR apps, desktop «gadgets» or dashboard «widgets» - it's all native-feeling, interoperable web tech.

Why care?

So why is this relevant at all? Aren't those iPhone and iPad apps out there just so superior that there's no need to even bother about that old-school web stuff? Well, I think this is about the long term, about what we can do to foster "sustainable" development practices that are truly open and e.g sufficiently safe against lock-in. In the short term, proprietary platforms might be lucrative and spectacular, but the benefits of having web tech "everywhere" might very well be far greater: the web is where the developers are, and enabling them to do NIWEAs could very well be pretty disruptive in many areas. And: we should never ever underestimate the web.

And now?

Having a word for all that stuff happening these days could help a lot, I think. So please do let me know: what do you think about it? Do you like it? Is it stupid enough? Or way too stupid?

Would you tag your bookmarks with "NIWEA"? Could we have a "NIWEA Conference"? Would you sign an "I support NIWEA" list? Have any links that just have to be on the list below?

Already thinking about funny logos? :)

Examples & Links


[1] For a note on glamor also see the original Ajax article
[2] See also Google I/O 2009 keynote for web vs. desktop UX - (not overly scientific) slide, video

Tell us what you think