The future of the web browser. It’s an interesting topic in and of itself. It’s even a more interesting topic for a guy like me who makes his living developing stuff that runs in said browser. Lately I’ve found myself asking a lot of questions, both to myself and to the people I know who are knowledgeable in the industry.
Here’s what pops into my head:
- Are we moving toward an app world where the browser becomes less relevant? Are we already there?
- How do closed apps affect search and the “link economy”, the primary infrastructure in which our modern day web is built?
- As a new developer, would it be more intelligent to skip the web all together and start learning a more “traditional” programming language like Java or C++?
- Are we going to keep seeing more and more app stores for more and more devices?
- If so, how does this divergence effect businesses and users? Right now you already need to make an app for Android, Blackberry, and iPhone/iPad. What happens when WebOS becomes big? Or any of the many other proposed app stores. Can developers keep up? Should they try to?
- How do HTML5 and CSS3 play a role in all of this? HTML5 can interact with the desktop in ways that browsers couldn’t do previously (geo-location, desktop notifications, etc).
- Does this whole thing swing back full circle and result in app stores becoming the walled gardens that no one wants to partake in, similar to CD Roms and desktop software (an idea planted in my head by Leo Laporte and Jeff Jarvis during various TwiT podcasts)?
- And then does the web and mobile web end up being what we’re all using in 5 years? And is it then actually a long term competitive advantage for small web development companies with limited resources to not spend time and money developing mobile apps?
Now keep in mind, I’m asking these questions in the context of thinking about LockerPulse, a web app that depends very much on the “link economy” of Google and therefore the browser, as outlined in my last post, and DetailedImage, an e-commerce store that might actually be less dependent on the browser, but in general e-commerce is still more of a browser thing than an app thing, at least compared to things like Twitter and Facebook and email.
Then the other day Wired declared the browser dead, as they also (wrongly) did in 1997:
Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display. It’s driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it’s a world Google can’t crawl, one where HTML doesn’t rule. And it’s the world that consumers are increasingly choosing, not because they’re rejecting the idea of the Web but because these dedicated platforms often just work better or fit better into their lives (the screen comes to them, they don’t have to go to the screen).
Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunsh, fired back with When Wrong, Call Yourself Prescient Instead. Sometimes I totally agree with Arrington, other times I couldn’t agree less, however I have enormous respect for him because he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. In this case, I think I actually agree with him, although I’m clearly biased towards the web browser:
The browser isn’t dead. Web pages aren’t dead. HTML works really, really well. Check out Facebook’s iPad “app,” for example. You don’t download it from an app store, you just point your browser to touch.facebook.com. Not only does it work really well, Steve Jobs doesn’t get to have a veto right over people using it. It’s no wonder that we’re seeing a surge of traffic from the iPad to our site, via a browser.
Apps are great on mobile phones with small screens. But they are a pain to install and keep synchronized. Eventually having less local software will make sense on phones, too. All you really need is that browser virtual machine and you can pull everything else from the cloud. This is obvious. Only a bunch of hipster tech journalists checking email on their iPads all day* would think otherwise, and then make up a bunch of data to support their argument.
*Wired, not us.
Fascinating to ponder. What do you think?