App Store not invited to web's date with destiny
HTML and URL all the way
Open...and Shut Just as the web seemed to have won - with consumers living their lives online through Facebook and Google and enterprises embracing cloud computing - along comes the mobile app to spoil the party.
And while mobile apps aren't the only force prompting a reconsideration of the web, as noted in The Economist, no single factor may be more potent.
After discovering the freedom the web offered us for years, why this return to the isolation of closed apps?
Financial Times journalist Richard Waters suggests here (warning: PDF) that the apps' convenience is the reason we're so eager to cede control to app (and app store) vendors:
On the small screens of smartphones...the battle between app stores and the wide-open web looks to be over. Consumers have voted with their thumbs: the easiest way to find and access a service is through an app, not surf to a web page.
This is true so far as it goes. Unfortunately, it doesn't go very far.
There is nothing particularly easy about app stores, except initial installation. They are orthogonal to the app discovery experience, because they inherently stifle sharing. It's true that the primary way to find new apps today is through a search in your favorite app store, but this is a very recent phenomenon, and history suggests it will almost certainly be short-lived.
Further, it's unclear why searching within an app store need be any better at discovery than searching within a web browser (perhaps one tuned to apps?).
The web introduced a powerful way to discover new content: the hyperlink. To think that we're going to abandon this method of exploring in favor of a isolating app store search is incredibly shortsighted, though I suspect the way we interact with URLs absolutely will change. It will be less about typing in a URL and more about apps linking to each other through URLs hidden to the end user.
It's doubtful, for example, that most people have the patience to thumb a URL into their smartphone, though services like Bit.ly could make this an easier process.
But it's not clear why the app store model is any better: a user must first think of what they want, then head to an app store that is completely separate from whatever it was they were previously doing (browsing the web, playing Angry Birds, or whatever), then type in an approximate description of the sort of app they want, and then download it.
That's not progress from the lowly URL. It's a massive step backward.
It's backward because it limits the power of casual discovery and installation of new content and other app experiences.
I spent the past week meeting with several of Europe's largest publishers. Over and over again they told me how frustrated they are with app stores' limitations in helping them find new readers and take their content to the reader, rather than forcing the reader to come to them. They're also, incidentally, frustrated with Apple's newly enforced policy on subscriptions, but are taking heart at how quickly app developer Readability was able to switch from native to HTML5 in less than a month and thereby thumb its nose at Apple.
App and content developers are looking for ways to push their app experience to new and existing users. The standalone app model expressly prohibits this. The only way to experience The Economist app is to download and install the app. I can't share the app experience that The Economist's development team worked so hard to build. Heck, in that particular app, I can't even share any of the content: there's no way to share through Facebook, Twitter, or even lowly email.
Now consider the even lowlier URL. The same app built with HTML5 could be completely shareable. I might link to the app on Twitter, and every person following me could access not just the content I appreciated, but also the entire content app experience.
Or think of games. I love Conquest, a Risk clone that I play regularly on my iPhone. You can read this article and decide to go out and download the app - assuming it works on your chosen platform - but wouldn't it be better if you could simply click on a link to it and immediately experience the app?
That sort of immediacy is not only easier for consumers, because it lets them experience apps where they already choose to be, but it's also better for the developer because it means their app is more likely to be adopted, used, and paid for.
That's powerful. It's also increasingly feasible as the fragmented mobile operating system world is converging on WebKit and HTML5 to unify the mobile web, a web that is more than capable of delivering an app experience without stranding users in apps.
Granted, I'm biased in this native app vs. HTML5 app debate, as I work for an HTML5 company. But unless one OS vendor completely dominates - and that doesn't look remotely likely - app developers are going to end up "defragmenting" the market with the web, a trend that Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond is already seeing. And just as the open web won out over CompuServe and AOL, expect connected web apps to win out over app islands.
Yes, we're in a transition period where standalone apps make sense. But to believe that "it's an app internet" now and forevermore is crazy talk, and assumes that there's more value in isolation than in connections. In other words, that apps are better than the Internet.
They're not. The isolated app model is fundamentally inferior to an open web of connected content and apps, one that is infinitely more shareable and more discoverable. Sure, there's going to be plenty of room for hybrid approaches to web/native apps, and that's healthy.
But let's not assume that consumers and developers have turned their backs on the web. Not even close. ®
Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open-source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.
Lost me in the first paragraph.
The web never "won". I don't think there ever was a contest between "apps" and the web, just as there is no contest between a screwdriver and a hammer.
Two different tools for two different sitations. Computer apps were never truly displaced by the web, the idea that there would be no space for mobile apps is utter ridiculousness.
It's because HTML sucks, dude
1) customers want apps that look good and are easy to use
2) developers will gravitate to the tools that provide that experience to customers with the least amount of effort.
HTML5 is an ungodly pain in the ass to code to. And takes many more lines of code to do something (say, add a nice fading shadow under an object) compared to an app language (in iOS, this is 3 lines of code (shadowColor, shadowOffset, and shadowRadius). And don't even get me started on how hard it is to do a dynamic, scrolling list/table view compared to a TableViewController in iOS.
Can I find and install a library in HTML5 that will allow me to do this? Yes. Why would I, that's more work!
I can't understand the whole fascination with HTML5. HTML is a "presentation" language. A language that had its roots in the text-oriented document creation languages like LaTeX. Over the years, it has had numerous amounts of crap glued onto it to make things interactive. I could make PostScript or LaTeX interactive, too, by glomming the same amount of junk onto it, but why in the world would I? Other than masochism?
If a language had existed that could provide the user experience that iOS or even Android's Java version does, I would have used it. But it doesn't. The learning curve to make HTML5 do what you want it to do is MUCH, MUCH, higher. And the benefits "it's portable" are lame. I can write an Android app and an iOS app - 2 independent apps - in the time it would take me to do a cross-platform HTML5 app. And each will look better than the HTML5 version. And my IP used to develop it would be private (unless I wanted to open it up).
You HTML5 people... you need to get over yourselves. The fact that you can make it work at all as an application framework is truly commendable. You've done the equivalent of bolting a jet engine onto a bicycle bike frame. The fact that the bike doesn't blow up is awesome - but that doesn't mean I want to ride it.
Not quite the whole story.
I'm a web developer, but I've seen too many web developers go off on the wrong track with this discussion. Yes, apps are convenient, but more than that, they're *usable*. Usability studies have shown that with simple tasks like getting the weather or checking a stock, a 'normal user' (not a developer, IT expert, or tech writer) with a phone app is 10x faster than someone trying to use the web. Yes, the mobile web is improving in usability, but at a glacial pace. "Closed" apps allow the experience to be tailored to the device in question. That is more important than "openness," "sharing", or even "features". None of those things matter if people can't get the thing to operate. People want things that simply work. Web developers love adding features, links, buzzwords and whistles to applications, and oddly enough that ends up turning people off. I've seen too many web devs say things like "I know this isn't what the users asked for, or what they need, but they'll love it when they see it". Apps are by nature limited, and they force the developer to think about the limits the user faces as they create the app.
The web is all about write once, view anywhere, which is great so long as everyone is accessing it through a clunky typewriter in front of a TV with a hockey puck attached. But when people are also using touch-enabled tablets, phones, media boxes, televisions, motions, gestures, and voice to access the network, it requires a bit more work. Slapping "HTML5" on an app isn't going to cut it.
I do think that the mobile web will gain ground in the future, but only as it becomes more usable, not as it becomes 'richer' or more 'open'.