The App-ocalypse: Can Web standards make mobile apps obsolete?

“It’s the apps. The iPhone and Android conquered the world because of the apps,” Larry Seltzer reports for Ars Technica. “More specifically, what keeps Android and iOS dominant is the utter lack of those apps on competing platforms.”

MacDailyNews Take: No. What keeps iOS dominant (94% smartphone profit share) is that with superior hardware, operating system, and total ecosystem, iOS users are extremely satisfied. Android sells because it’s a cheap iPhone knockoff. Not profitable (just 6% and falling of smartphone profit share), cheap. AppLack™ isn’t “holding down” other OSes. Other OSes were very late to the game that Apple invented. The only mobile OS that sells at all is the one that tries the hardest and was the quickest to ape iOS, patents be damned. If Apple hadn’t had such a long exclusivity agreement with AT&T, Android wouldn’t be where it is today in terms of units shipped.

“But today, the mobile landscape is significantly different from a year or two ago (let alone five),” Seltzer reports. “Today, apps aren’t really necessary. In fact, it’s easy to envision an excellent, software-rich mobile device that uses the Web instead of apps.”

“There’s currently a litany of problems with apps. There is the platform lock-in and the space the apps take up on the device. Updating apps is a pain that users often ignore, leaving broken or vulnerable versions in use long after they’ve been allegedly patched,” Seltzer reports. “Apps are also a lot of work for developers—it’s not easy to write native apps to run on both Android and iOS, never mind considering Windows Phone and BlackBerry.”

Seltzer reports, “What’s the alternative? Well, perhaps the best answer is to go back to the future and do what we do on desktop computers: use the Web and the Web browser.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: To app or not to app, that is the question. The answer depends on what you’re trying to do. Sometimes Web apps are the answer, sometimes not.

One thing we don’t want to see are watered down, lowest common denominator apps that ignore the unique benefits iOS provides. So, the answer to the headline is, of course, “No.”

21 Comments

  1. I’m beginning to get used to the fact that many apps require a live internet connection, but offline capability in the past has been a big deal with native apps. Still, new web standards have the ability to do offline caching as well.

    Really, as long as the web apps are able to tap into all the device apis (accelerometer, gps, 3D touch, etc), then I see no compelling reason to stick with the iOS app store. The upsides of course are removal of app store royalty fees and immediate deployment.

    Personally, I had no problem with Apple taking 30% when the app store was new…it was a great marketing tool, as well as a deployment platform. Now, however, I believe the 30% is too high for what Apple provides.

    1. Tideturner, you are right… the current trend is towards ‘offline-first, mobile responsive, single page apps’. These web apps can be wrapped in something like Apache Cordova and then sold in an app store. That way you get the best of both worlds, a native app where it needs it (accelerometer, camera, health kit, etc…) and the flexibility of a web app (can be changed without going through the app store approval process).

      There are gaming engines (like Unity or Phaser) that can be built as a web app and Cordova can be extended with plugins to allow developers to create web apps that can access native features of the device (like 3D touch). So I believe it is entirely possible to create web apps that run on multiple devices and access the native features of each.

      The only drawback is that web standards are constantly changing and good web app development is much more difficult than developing for a single platform with a single language.

  2. The big downside of web pages is that at least half of the pages are ads that clutter both sides of the screen and cost the user both download time and data charges. That old way was the reason Apple created Apps to serve customers in a less expensive, faster and better user experience. Some people just don’t get it!

    1. You’re confusing webapp for webpage.

      And Apple does control the in app ad experience, so even your app store experience will deliver blissful messages of commerce.

  3. Apple is impeding the growth of viable standards for webapps. They’ve been doing it for years, for all the obvious reasons.

    Since most apps want a persistent connection to the web, apple’s stance is just another attempt at lock in.

    apple, is you are so great, and your products so revolutionary, why do you buil;d walls? Are you afraid that without your artificial barriers to entry, your users might actually choose something bassed on its merits instead of your obfuscation?

    1. I seem to remember, when the first iPhone was released, that Apple was pushing for web apps. It was the developers and customers that were complaining until they saw APIs to make native Apps.

  4. There is a school of thought that webapps are replacing mobile apps. I just graduated with a degree in computer science, and the instructor of our mobile/cloud development said he wanted to retool the course to focus more on cloud development because he observed that’s where the industry was going.
    On the other hand, having lived in NYC, I recall the frustration of wanting to play a game on the subway only to discover that even though there was nothing in the gameplay that required a network connection, the app did, and therefore it didn’t work. So there is something to be said for standalone apps, especially if what your app is designed to do doesn’t in and of itself require internet service.

  5. The web apps v. native has gone on for years and may never be resolved. In Asia, web apps are the dominant form but I’m not sure that they will be in future. Why would a vendor, particularly a large vendor with their own development resources wish to send their traffic through Google or Facebook?

    Apple’s model of quickly jumping to the native app to conduct whatever business but in the complete environment and then quickly jumping back is, IMHO, preferable.

  6. No, web standards are great for lowest common denominator functionality. But, if you want to differentiate your platform with strengths other platforms either can’t, or won’t be able to, match for the next couple of years, the mobile app platform is the way to go.

  7. Platform lock-in is only a problem if you’re on the wrong platform. If you’re a long term Apple fan, and you’ve been betting on the winner from the beginning, you’re more that happy if everything you do works well on your platform. You don’t want to make compromises so that the idiots that didn’t adopt Apple’s operating systems don’t feel so bad.

  8. I don’t know about the current caching ability of web apps but I feel doubtful about a web app being able to do everything a native app can do. Maybe for simple CRUD type apps a web app might do fine but doing something more powerful than that might stretch things a bit.

  9. With the world deciding Web Apps is the winner, My 128Gb iPhone would need constant connection to the internet (something I don’t really care for) however the phone without apps would be pretty free to just house all my files and content. Guess it doesn’t matter which way things will go. I am sure Apple still will provide the better solution.

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