Dr. Axel Rauschmayer is a freelance software engineer, blogger and educator, located in Munich, Germany. Axel is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 246 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Mobile apps – dead within three years?

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On 2011-09-08, Seth Sternberg, CEO of Meebo made a bold prediction:

Prediction: Mobile apps are dead in 3 yrs - mobile web wins. Faster cloud connection and faster chips. PCs all over again. Implications?

This tweet packs a lot of stuff into very few characters. Let’s look at the assertions.

Is it really mobile apps versus the mobile web? The mobile web is still missing essential features, but things such as app stores and offline operation are slowly coming. However, once the mobile web has these features then it is merely another platform for “mobile apps”.

Or is it mobile operating systems against the web? Web apps will always have to run on something. With the operating system not really being part of the web stack, mobile operating systems are here to stay. The web does not compete with operating systems, it runs on them. However, in the upper layers of an operating system, there can be competition.

Or is it web user interfaces and APIs versus native mobile user interfaces and APIs? That is a much more interesting proposition. But web technologies are already the best way of writing cross-platform mobile apps. It is also intriguing that web technologies are increasingly being used to implement the user interface layers of mobile operating systems. Prominent examples: Chrome OS, Boot to Gecko, Tizen, webOS. I expect the influence of these operating systems to increase. Web technologies allow them to evolve the user interface layer quickly and to tap the growing pool of web developers, who are already familiar with their environments. The web still has to catch up with two aspects of non-web mobile operating systems: the refinement of the user experience and the comprehensiveness of device APIs. Both are being worked on.

Mobile app store or not? Even if you have written an app using web technologies, you still have the choice of distributing it either via a mobile app store or simply putting it on the web. That is indeed a “mobile app versus web app” decision. A recent example is the Financial Times which started a web app to escape Apple’s control of the app store. The web app is now more popular than the native app. The main challenges for web-deployed apps are ease of use and security (both real and as perceived by users).

Does the web need “faster cloud connection and faster chips”? What for? To be always connected? That’s an assumption you cannot make on mobile. And accordingly, the web does not do so and offline operation is becoming an important part of it. Furthermore, connection and computing speeds are already fast enough to make web apps viable.

It’s not PCs all over again. Mobile phones are consumer electronics and thus a completely different product from PCs. They are more similar to cars: instability is not an option, hardware longevity and build quality matter much more. While I’m not always fond of Apple’s controlled approach, it does have the advantage of a more polished and safer user experience. And that matters in consumer electronics. Even Google is exerting more control, these days. Lastly:

  • Not even PCs are “PCs all over again”. Apple’s Mac business currently is more profitable and faster-growing than the rest of the industry. That’s not a bad way of “losing” against PCs.
  • Mobile computing adheres to different laws: It is harder to achieve commoditization of parts, because everything is about integration. First evidence for the difference is already there:
    • The tablet market is still completely dominated by the iPad and will remain fragmented: I expect Amazon’s Kindle Fire to do well, but it will always exist mostly separate from Android. At some point, Android should gain some traction, too.
    • In the mobile phone space, numbers are very unclear. Some show Android outgrowing the iPhone, others indicate that the iPhone is still holding its own.

Conclusion. It is unfair to respond to a tweet with a blog post, but the topic triggered so many thoughts that I had to write them down. The following three years will indeed be interesting for web developers, as the influence of web technologies will certainly increase.


From http://www.2ality.com/2011/10/mobile-apps-dead.html

Published at DZone with permission of Axel Rauschmayer, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)



Cody A_ replied on Fri, 2011/10/28 - 11:03am

Really enjoyed this post, this is a topic that is gaining more steam from devs recently. Definitely worth writing down and discussing. Thanks for the insight.

Kevin Peck replied on Fri, 2011/10/28 - 4:36pm

I believe mobile can replace a number of apps in the market but not all of them. The app I work on (native versions for both iOS and Android) makes heavy use of SQLite. While you do get some storage space with HTML 5 it is not enough for my use. I am going to need to stick with native for the foreseeable future.

Once you go web app you get to the fun of testing on various devices and various browsers per device. Safari, FireFox, Dolphin, Opera, Android native and any new one that comes along. Not like going web means everything just works perfectly everywhere. You also get to deal with form factors. I want to see more information laid out in a different format on my tablet than I do on my phone. Both version of my app are universal binaries - they work on both the phone and the tablet but currently don't take advantage of every feature of the tablet.

I am pretty tired of writing all the code twice - one in Java and once in Objective C - so I would love to be able to code it once with a decent web programming language but I also want it to look native to the platform. Currently menus, buttons, tabs are in different places on the iPhone and Android.

Will our phones and tablets all turn into Chrome OS? Why bother with anything native if you can get it all off the web with cached data? Instant updates of all your apps just like you get - like it or not - with Yahoo Mail, Google Mail, Google Calendar and others.

I don't mind the Android Market. I can publish my app or an update and have it available to everyone within a few minutes. My beta users can have a patch nearly instantly. With the Apple App Store it takes a few days minimum to get anything pushed through. Makes me a paranoid programmer when doing Objective C but is a hindrance to the release process overall.

It will be an interesting next couple of years for sure.

Prem Kurian Philip replied on Sat, 2011/10/29 - 9:44am

Seth Sternberg makes a good point. Over time people will slowly move back to using the mobile web rather than downloading apps onto their mobile phones and tablets. The chance of data getting lost because a mobile device is stolen or lost is very high and so mobile apps won't be used for anything apart from games, simple applications and so on.

 Also, everytime a user wants to change their device, they will need to go through the trouble of again downloading those same apps. Cloud is where the future is.

Aubrey Hunter replied on Wed, 2012/12/05 - 5:21am

Mobile apps issue is a great entry at all! Just a quick note to tell you that i have a passion for the topic at hand. Thanks for the head up and keep posting like this.......


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