With the launch of Apple’s App Store in the summer of 2008 the number of native mobile apps has skyrocketed. As of today there are more than 2 million apps available on the App Store and over 2.2 million on Google Play. But how meaningful are native mobile apps if they can be build as a web app as well? I believe web apps are the future and I will explain why.
Because as good as anyone that owns a smartphone uses native apps it is hard to imagine a world without them. Back in 2008, when they were introduced, smartphone applications quickly gained a foothold and from a company perspective I can understand their value. They safeguard the quality of programs that run on a device and provide users with a recognizable user experience.
Websites and browsers at the time could not offer the same type of native experience as an app. But after the W3C’s official recommendation of HTML5 in October 2014, the World Wide Web made its first big step in catching up with what native mobile apps can deliver.
One of the major advantages of the World Wide Web’s underlying markup language, HTML, is that it offers a relatively easy to understand script that works on every web browser. This means that a program written in HTML will function on the browser of a desktop computer, a laptop, smartphone, tablet, smart TV, smartwatch and basically any other device that can surf the Internet.
The same thing cannot be said about applications from the App Store or Google Play. These have been specifically developed to function on operating system iOS or Android and force developers to grasp much harder to understand programming languages and follow pre-set rules, essentially erecting a high barrier to what can be made while limiting the reach it can have.
The World Wide Web is an open and free platform, that is not dictated by company interests or those of individual governments. The fact that developers and users alike are forced to follow the rules of narrow self-interests of business and block creativity and innovation in the process is in my view not the way we should want to go.
In stead, the software, hardware and underlying web scripts are ready to regain their position as the foundation of online programs. Not only to simplify the creation of popular online programs, but also to make them truly open and usable for every user, no matter what device you own.
Free to use
Aside the World Wide Web being cross platform and open, it is also free to use. With this I mean that it does not force you to pay a gatekeeper a sum of money in order to publish something. It’s a great business idea to monopolize a market and ask for money to enter it, but from a people perspective it’s not very desirable.
The very reason I never got into developing iOS applications as a student was that it required me to pay $99 a year just to be able to publish something. This might not seem a lot if you believe in what you make, but it again creates a large barrier to experiment and create something. Again, the World Wide Web does not come with such a fee and no gatekeeper will force you to pay a yearly fee.
No installment barriers
Something important I have not mentioned yet is that the overall experience of a native mobile smartphone application isn’t that great compared to a website or web app. In stead of simply opening an URL in your browser, you are required to search through a program, frequently pay for what you want to access, approve a wide range of privacy-diminishing terms that you cannot adjust, download it and install it. All this can be placed directly in your browser as well, providing you more ownership and while also not eating away precious memory too.
The fact Google announced Android Instant Apps during its annual I/O developers conference last year also tells me that even the companies that have placed us into this situation in the first place are seeing that web apps are the future. Android Instant Apps namely allows developers to make native apps available in Google Chrome, without the requirement of downloading and installing them. Perhaps once native apps will run in web browsers directly they will lose their meaning altogether.
In other words, I am very hopeful that in the not so distant future the technology giants we know and love, developers and users alike will realize that web applications have much more to offer than limiting, time consuming and costly native mobile applications. I am especially hopeful that the yet to be introduced HTML6 will take away the last points of resistance from gatekeepers, such as the ability to offer visitors a more immersive OS-based experience and the ability to make better use of individual device sensors.
- ‘Number of apps available in leading app stores as of June 2016’, Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/276623/number-of-apps-available-in-leading-app-stores/
- ‘iPhone (1st generation)’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone_(1st_generation)
- ‘HTML5’, W3C, https://www.w3.org/TR/html5/introduction.html