The Web is broken, and apps and "mobile" experiences are the problem

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, November 26, 2014, 11:11 PM | comments: 0

I've said many times that I'm totally annoyed with the app-tastic nature of mobile devices. Most apps that aren't games are little more than thin wrappers around API's that could be just was well served by a Web app. It used to annoy me because, as a software developer, I have no interest in coming up with three or four variations of the same thing, not able to share any of the UI code. Now my annoyance is more because of the "islands" that apps create, and the totally bastardized versions of Web sites made for mobile.

On the mobile side, I didn't always feel this way. I used to have a mobile version of my forum app, but it was only the UI that was different. The underlying business rules and logic was shared under the hood. Mostly my approach was just to hide some stuff and make it a lighter payload. When I went down that road, going on three years ago, responsive design was in its infancy and hard to do. Now I'm against it for a number of reasons. While I took care to make sure the underlying code was the same, many sites have totally different code bases and you simply can't do all of the same things. When grandma only uses an iPad and you force her to use that different site, I can't help her, and we don't have the same experience.

And apps... ugh... how many possible ways could they break the Web? At the very least, not being able to pass of a URL to someone means they can't see what you see. They need to download an app and find it themselves. If you have the wrong version of the mobile OS, you're out of luck, or worse, if you have the wrong OS you're even more out of luck. You have to update the damn things constantly, whereas something appearing in a browser is always the latest code. And by the way, the research indicates that very few of the apps you download ever get used more than once.

Annoying as this all seems (to me), I think we're getting closer to turning a corner. Because the upgrade cycle of phones and tablets is apparently very short, the old fashioned Web browser keeps getting more and more powerful. The various frameworks and tools to run software in a browser keep getting more and more compatible and awesome. The long and short of it is that it's getting to a point where we can deliver great experiences in a browser, without an app. That makes me happy.


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