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Native Apps are not part of the web, John Gruber

“War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.”
— George Orwell, 1984 

Reading John Gruber’s Native Apps Are Part of the Web feels like reading a George Orwell novel.  Gruber argues that native apps are simply alternative interfaces to HTML, but that they both connect to the same back-end.  Therefore, they are part of the web.  What he’s describing is a client-server app, which was the predecessor model to web applications.  As an industry we abandoned the client-server model in the late 1990’s because web applications were less expensive to build, more maintainable, and less brittle over the long-term.

John says “users love apps”.  True, unless they’re not available on the users platform of choice.  Take, for example, recent flights that I’ve been on where in flight entertainment systems have been replaced by iPads and streaming video.  What if you don’t have an iPad?  The helpful folks at the airlines will rent you an iPad for your trip.  I know I love shelling out extra cash to airlines to watch a movie.

“Developers love apps”, Gruber writes.  It’s true that developers love the revenue opportunities from apps, but they don’t love the fragmentation that multiple proprietary platforms require – APIs, marketplaces, media formats, etc.  As a developer, your choice is to invest three or four times as much to have apps on multiple platforms as a single HTML app would cost; provided of course that all platform vendors implemented HTML5 to a consistent level.  And they don’t.  Sigh… feels like Netscape vs Microsoft in 1995, doesn’t it?

The promise of HTML5 was that we could finally get to a unified and rich app model across all operating systems.  Too bad that didn’t happen.

No, those who love native apps the most are the platform vendors. Apps make customers sticky to platforms.  Apps are the walled garden that deny users freedom of choice.

Welcome to AOL… circa 1994.

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Lloyd Summers November 19, 2014, 12:26 pm

    Well said,
    I think it’s always a bad idea to generalize HTML5 and Native apps as one and the same. Web enabled and Web app aren’t the same thing and provide very different experiences… and fit different requirements for sure. The other thing to mention, in my opinion, is very few apps actually do rely on cloud based data solutions. Some do, but in terms of average marketplace percentages…

  • Aaron Ardiri November 21, 2014, 11:06 am

    the native vs web argument is getting old

    it all comes down to the right tools for the right job. there are cases where native is a must as there is cases for web (HTML5) as a must. there is no holy grail, heck – I even started writing assembler again with the rise of low power micro controllers with the IoT buzz.

    I love native apps because I am a C/asm programmer – I design with cross platform in mind, even if it requires a bridge layer of some sorts.. at the same time I am not about to reimplement a web view when one already exists (done that before on palmos when webkit was a sparkle in someone’s eye) – that said, it comes down to circumstances

    some web apps run better than native, especially if you have a web developer who knows what they are doing and a native app developer who is clueless.

    nuff said, now I will go back to writing my C and assembly code :)

    // Aaron

    • alec November 21, 2014, 2:48 pm

      I don’t disagree with you on “right tool for the right job”, Aaron. Not one bit. And yes, C language native apps are great when performance is at a premium, and assembler when memory is at a premium. Shoot… if you want to perform matrix transformations and complex math, nothing has yet beaten APL!

      I object to the assertion that a browser-less client server application is a web application. It isn’t.

      • Aaron Ardiri November 21, 2014, 2:58 pm

        If devices actually supported HTML5 right – it would be much better for all, BlackBerry 10 put a focus on this and we’re industry leaders from a mobile point of view until Jolla came along :) – we had such a great position for developers while evangelizing BlackBerry 10 but the other platforms fell short on promises.. sad, but true. however, ruling out native is just as suicidal – BlackBerry 10 offered bothering options but the market geniuses like Apple won.. most users became sheep.

        // Aaron

        • alec November 22, 2014, 2:37 pm

          Not ruling out native, but let’s not conflate native and the web, that’s all.

  • Shashwat Pradhan November 22, 2014, 1:53 am

    HTML5 just doesn’t cut it, native apps are the way to go. Nice read!

    • alec November 22, 2014, 5:01 pm

      For performance, absolutely!

  • Ken Camp November 22, 2014, 2:14 pm

    While I agree from a purist and developer perspective, if I look purely from the consumer user perspective, I have to disagree. An app is just the mechanism I use to interface to the web. Being solely IOS-centric, “the app is the web”. Safari or any other mobile browser is a layer of abstraction that impedes my relationship with the web.

    Commenting through the Facebook app on iPhone, so proxying service via an app. As a user, all I care about is the experience.

    I’m not saying we couldn’t have a better experience. We could indeed. But without critical mass of adoption, there’s little impetus to make changes that deliver minuscule benefit to the user. It’s all ROI from where I sit. ROI coupled with WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

    Note, I haven’t done coding or app dev in a good many years, but I live in DevOps and Agile flows every day. So I admit to a distorted lens to see through.

    • alec November 22, 2014, 2:41 pm

      But this is very much about users, Ken. What do the folks on Air Canada Rouge who own tablets from any other manufacturer other than Apple do when they want to watch a movie? Rent an Apple product from the airline, because the airline only provides its in-flight entertainment service on Apple products. That’s profoundly consumer unfriendly. To equate “apps” with the web in this circumstance is tantamount to suggesting that only Apple can provide you with complete access to the web. And that’s malarkey.

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