Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Will Smartphones Destroy the Web?

I started writing this blog early last year and never finished it.  Today I saw the draft and thought it was even more appropriate today than last year...

Today's smartphones are amazing devices: aside from making phone calls and texting, they let us play games and surf the web at ever increasing speeds. So, what's not to love?

The danger appears in a feature that is becoming ubiquitous in smartphones: apps and app stores. Huh? How could those tremendously useful little applications found on the iPhone, Droid, etc. threaten the web? Quite simply: by existing.

Before the arrival of the iPhone, the Web blossomed into an indispensable information tool to which everyone with a Web browser had access. During this incredibly fruitful time, Web standards ruled and they became more and more sophisticated as the needs of the users of the Web and the applications they desired grew more demanding. Since standards underpinned everything, browsers continued to be able to support users. The Web ecosystem was flourishing.

But now more and more developers are foregoing developing their applications for the web.  Lured by the highly sophisticated but platform-specific APIs offered by cellphone manufacturers, they are spending their time and resources developing "apps".  Since apps do not work across platforms, mobile phone vendors achieve greater and greater "lock-in" as their app stores (and user dependence on them) grow.  Balkanization.  Suddenly only Apple users can access some information - information that used to be accessible to anyone with a Web browser.

Ergo: apps destroy the promise of the Web: access to information by all.

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