How Apple can maintain its omnipotence

“While it’s hard to argue with Apple’s success with native apps thus far, the momentum among developers is with web apps. It’s just too costly and complicated to build and maintain a mature app natively for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and whatever other niche OSes developers or their clients want to reach,” Rameet Chawla writes for Forbes. “My prediction is within five years, anyone who buys a non-iOS device is going to buy a Chrome OS device, and web apps are going to run on all of them. As developers abandon the native app ship in favor of web apps, how will Apple maintain a rich ecosystem of apps that run on its devices?”

“Apple has two nonexclusive options. Most urgently, Apple can empower web apps within iOS. Make them first-class citizens right alongside native apps. Within reasonable limits for security and stability, let web apps call on resources, information, and other apps that will let them do everything that native apps can,” Chawla writes. “Apple, under CEO Tim Cook, is making moves in this direction, souping up the browser’s JavaScript engine and opening up a little more access for web apps.

“Second, in the long term, Apple needs to come up with a competitor to Chrome OS. And the company needs to build a browser-based operating system that works across all of Apple’s devices, from desktops and laptops to tablets and phones to watches and other wearable devices. There are signs that Apple is already taking steps in this direction with the release of Swift, a new programming language for iOS that will eventually replace Objective-C. Though Swift apps are presently compiled for distribution, they can already be run live without compiling in a Playground in Xcode, Apple’s development environment,” Chawla writes. “I believe Apple is using this as a bridge to a future of non-compiled apps that can be distributed and deployed live, much like a web app is today.”

“Note that neither of these strategies require Apple to demolish the garden walls and embrace Google-style promiscuity,” Chawla writes. “That’s not Apple’s way, and it doesn’t have to be.”

Much more in the full article – recommended – here.


  1. Funny, when faced with the same choice in the PC era, developers made applications for the OS which brought in the most money: Windows.

    Wouldn’t developing exclusively for iOS provide the same benefit as settling for web apps? Couldn’t developers simply develop for iOS and then do a web app for all the others who don’t know enough about the superior experience of an executable?

    1. That’s exactly the direction Apple is headed… They develop native apps for their platforms, it just so happens that one of those platforms is their web-based iCloud. Expect to see a lot more functionality and apps added to it over the next couple of years. Even if you look at what’s available now, it’s basically an entire office suite with built-in document collaboration. I definitely think iMessage and Maps will be the next features added.

      I do agree with one thing though, that Swift is not only an answer to modernize native programming, but also to web-based scripting. I eventually see Apple building an interpreter into WebKit.

  2. I’m not sure why this article was recommended by MDN, because this guy doesn’t have a clue. He’s right that developers won’t write apps for a bunch of platforms, they’ll only write them for 2-3. Those other platforms will wither and die (hello Blackberry). That’s the way competition works in technology. Native mobile front ends are vastly superior to web front ends (for complex apps), which is why users prefer them. Both types of apps (native and web) use web services on the backend (and those services use open standards, even though the author pretends this isn’t true). As for Chrome OS, let’s just say unlike the author I see that platform doing absolutely nothing in the next five years. We shall see…

    1. I think it’s just another “I’m going to build an entire narrative based on one unproven item and hope no one calls me out on it”. Native will always be better than web applications simply because anything designed for a platform performs better than something designed for some lowest common form factor. It’s why iOS apps are such a pleasure to use compared to Android, apps written to take advantage of the differing form factors.

  3. I am an iOS only developer by choice and if I had no choice I would add android. Fortunately at the moment I don’t have to.

    Anyhow I met this developer the other day who developed and app for all mobile devices using Apache Cordova. The client hates the app because it is a generic app. Looks like a web app with no specific iOS buttons. The look and feel is ugly even though the app itself looks good in my opinion. I mean it is no sloppy but it doesn’t work. Users want OS specific apps. If they choose an environment it is for a specific reason and they want apps familiar to use from the start.

  4. There’s something missing here. Google forked WebKit, specifically so they could add their own stuff to it. It will become very different from WebKit, especially as Google adds its own hooks to Android/Chrome OS resources.

    In order for Apple to further web apps on its platforms, as the article suggests, Apple would have to provide their own hooks into resources.

    The problem for developers here is that you’re still coding for another platform.

    From Google’s perspective, app revenue isn’t significant and they don’t mind so much if developers move to a web app model… which is more likely to be monetized via ad revenue.

    Whereas with Apple, app revenue is much more significant, but more importantly the experience isn’t as good, or controlled. While Apple can choose what resources web apps have access to, they can’t easily block an individual web app that abuses these resources in ways that weren’t foreseen.

  5. Does he want an Apple OS based on HTML5? Or does he want an OS that supports HTML5-based apps as equals? And just because a developer writes an HTML5 app for ChromeOS does not mean it’ll work on ANY OTHER web-based OS. It seems to me that the author doesn’t know anything about what he’s writing and just having an HTML5 nerdgasm.

    Furthermore, he completely fails to mention Apple’s role in advancing HTML5 over the past decade as a founding member of WHATWG. And there’s nary a peep about iCloud; Apple’s web-based platform, which I’m sure they’re building and working on an SDK for… Why worry about writing an entire OS, when you can simply create a platform that runs in any modern browser?

  6. “Though Swift apps are presently compiled for distribution, they can already be run live without compiling in a Playground in Xcode, Apple’s development environment”

    The guy has no clue what he’s talking about. While it’s true that *some* features in Swift can be run from the playground, this isn’t an interpretation like JavaScript. Further, there is no way that running stuff in playground is comparable to a web app.

    And, FWIW, it will be a *long* time before Swift is ready to replace Objective-C. Swift is not ready for prime time and probably won’t be for a very long time.

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