During a recent discussion with a colleague about a web application that is being developed, it occurred to me that a customer should not need to explicitly require that web application to be a Rich Internet Application (RIA).
The web application we were discussing is currently constructed as a set of server pages that share a common background image (indeed, rather classical). Depending on the connection speed and how images and pages are cached by the browser, the user will likely experience irregular delays and flickering of parts of the screen. In the case of this particular application, this is hardly acceptable, because this particular customer envisions an intuitive and attractive user interface with “Apple-like quality” (I hear that last one quite often).
It made my colleague and I wonder whether our customer had explicitely requested an RIA or not. But now I believe that a customer should not necessarily need to. The RIA is a technological choice advised to a customer to meet certain (user centered) requirements like the ones mentioned above.
I also believe that, as the hype of the RIA is wearing off, requiring a usable, attractive UI is becoming more and more implicit: “of course our new web application should be easy and fun to use”. Peope are getting used to RIAs and expect no less than a smooth and effective experience. They expect no less than a responsive (no delays) and usable application that they can access anywhere, anytime.
High expectations? Well, they might still be today, because these requirements still pose much challenge to the designers and developers of web applications. But that is rapidly changing as the quality of design and development tools are improving quickly (both Adobe and Microsoft are strongly focusing on the quality and productivity of their tools).
Website has become a synonym for RIA and vice versa. Maybe the term “website” will even disappear all together as web applications are already stepping out of your web browser onto your desktop (think Adobe AIR, Mozilla Prism).