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Browsers, not apps, are the future of mobile (intercom.com)
378 points by hackyio on Nov 3, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 185 comments

This might not be a popular opinion on this site, but I'd actually rather see things go the opposite way entirely. The reason I install such few apps isn't because Google Play is inconvenient, it's because the vast majority of apps are simply designed to data mine or pump advertisements. Most of the time, they don't provide enough value to be worth using in the first place, while websites at least supposedly are sandboxed so they can't be so obnoxious.

This is getting worse and worse though as browsers expose more and more of their host operating system's functionality. The benefits of using a website instead of a native app are quickly disappearing, while the drawbacks have only been somewhat mitigated. We're getting to the point where browsers are worthy of the decades old criticism Emacs has received. They have eventually become an OS with many fine features - simply lacking a good web browser. For the privacy conscious user, modern web technologies will undermine you every step of the way, or simply break if you choose to stand your ground.

I personally would rather have a dozen well crafted battery sipping native C apps than a million awful contraptions built in a script interpreter on to of a VM by the lowest bidder on ODesk. Sure it's harder to do it right, but that's the cost of quality. Maybe I'm stuck in the 80's, but to me, it seems like a lot of wisdom has been shrugged off in the pursuit of expedience.

Since mobile app ads are not going away any time soon, I'd much prefer vendors make their services available via web browsers. That way my browser's ad blocker can filter out most of the irrelevant annoying dross and waste less of my time and my bandwidth, not to mention improve my security and privacy.

To that end, in recent months, I've found myself deleting about half of the mobile apps I'd downloaded over the years, and shifting to using the firm's browser interface whenever possible.

The fact that you are being down voted illustrates who posts on HN. "Ads allow me to bring you awesome content". "Without ads, the web as it is today wouldn't exist". "Content providers!" This is true in a minority of cases. The problem is everyone who has a garbage app or a garbage site thinks this is the case for them. Most of the time their content is worthless. These are the most vocal. They spend more time on SEO BS than content or making an app that isn't horrific. If you have a good app or a good site, people will pay via ads or subs. The web would be better if everyone used adblock or ublock and these people found a legitimate way to earn a living.

>The problem is everyone who has a garbage app or a garbage site thinks this is the case for them.

If it's so "garbage" then maybe don't install that app or visit that site?

But people want the content, but not what pays for it (and also don't want to directly pay for it -- not in any sustainable numbers).

>If you have a good app or a good site, people will pay via ads or subs.

Then what is your argument? If people are willing to view ads when the content is good, then why does it matter if it's a native app or not?

I'd argue that the race to the bottom which has happened in the mobile app marketplace has caused many people like myself to lose faith entirely. I've been conditioned to treat mobile developers with the same distain and mistrust that I reserve for lawyers, politicians, and used car salesmen. My default assumption is that they are a shyster trying to trick me into being a product of their clandestine marketing analytics business.

It really sucks for the honest developers, but as a result, I'm more comfortable using my browser to interact with dynamic content (like HN, Reddit, etc) while reserving local app installs to an extremely limited set of functions which need to operate on my local data where having both contact and networking permissions are a huge red flag.

This is all due to the interface though. Mozilla is a much more neutral party then Google. I'd rather untrusted third parties negotiate with Mozilla's API than Google's. What I'd like even more is good native software which treats users with dignity and respect, but those are few and far between on Android.

>I'd argue that the race to the bottom which has happened in the mobile app marketplace has caused many people like myself to lose faith entirely. I've been conditioned to treat mobile developers with the same distain and mistrust that I reserve for lawyers, politicians, and used car salesmen.

Sorry, but what "race to the bottom"? There are 1.5 millions apps in the iOS App Store. Inevitably a lot of them will be bad. But there are thousands of great apps at any price range.

It matters because people don't want an app for every site they frequent. Furthermore, a lot of apps are simply exactly the same as the mobile site but with the burden of install, updates, permissions, etc. I think users prefer a single point of entry for sites.

To clarify. I was responding to two separate arguments. App vs mobile web and ad blocker usage.

> people found a legitimate way to earn a living.

It is not up to you to decide what is legitimate.

Take a look at MinMinGuard+ xposed framework if you use Android. Also a tool called luckypatcher

> The reason I install such few apps isn't because Google Play is inconvenient, it's because the vast majority of apps are simply designed to data mine or pump advertisements

The iOS App Store isn't perfect in this regard, but it's miles ahead of Google Play, which doesn't seem to have any standards at all.

Yep, this is one of the major reasons I refuse to use Android anymore. If it's what you like hey go for it, no problem for me- but too few people consider the full scope of what allowing permissions to apps brings. Not to mention the built in data mining Google does by default. Yes, Android has gotten better at their permissions model, but only slightly.

Android's cyanogenmod has a "privacy guard" feature , which blocks access for apps for privacy data.

But yes, Google still gets everything .

Install cyanogenmod, do not install any google apps or "pay services", use f-droid.

Use webapps, a browser to sandbox better websites.

Phone is marvelous now.

Same here. When the application has been designed from the ground-up with the target platform in mind, the user experience is almost always better than the equivalent in-browser, at least for me.

Apart from performance-intensive apps/services like Netflix or Twitch, even things like Linkedin I find more engaging on a tablet/phone.

The app feels more responsive, the design does not have the same constraints as when designing for a browser.

But I really don't see the need of seeing it as a dichotomy, as a "there will be only one" thing.

The convenience/ubiquity/versatility of a browser is hard to match.

Just like the browser didn't kill desktop applications, native apps won't kill the browser.

I don't mind installing apps if it's something I care about. Medium is a great (counter-)example. I wanted to leave a comment on mobile. You can't unless you use their app. No thanks.

I have an app that pays for parking in my city. It's pretty decent and I'm happy with it. If I go to another city once in a while, I'm likely not going to download a different app to pay for parking there. Or if I visit a furniture store for something once, I really don't want their app. And so on.

I don't want to be locked in the ecosystem of the hardware vendor.

That doesn't have to be the case. Android is open. There's Plasma and Jolla, too.

Maybe there needs to be a more curated App Store that carries only the best applications?

Isn't that what C should have had solved by being "portable"? Or am I misunderstanding your point?

It's APIs that lock you down, not the language.

Nobody wants but most of us do in one way or the other.

So you prefer to create a bad experience for your users?

At some point, these well crafted battery sipping native C apps are going to be able to live in your browser with WebAssembly and WebGL.

>battery sipping native C apps

Battery sipping native C apps? Mobile browser-based SPAs are worse battery sipping offenders than native apps.

At least the native C apps don't run 2-3 extra levels of indirection AND the most inefficient GUI stack to top.

I think they were using "sipping" as a compliment, as opposed to gulping, draining, etc.

Yes, that's what I was implying. Industry has been repeating the mantra of developer time being worth more than machine time for so long. Indeed, it's true, but far too many people forget that it's a trade off, and that machine time is still valuable. You can't just cut developer time at any expense. That's how we end up with phones that last 4 hours between charges and a vicious cycle of throwing hardware in the trash because lazy developers made it obsolete.

The point of WebAssembly and WebGL is to remove a few layers of indirection and that inefficient GUI stack.

Yet in real life use, WebGL apps suffer from spending too much time on the JS layer (for physics, instructions, etc), so they get a lot of overhead over pure OpenGL.

WebAssembly might indeed solve this...

I mostly agree. My hierarchy of mobile is well-built native app > functional, well-built mobile website > irritating native app > irritating mobile website. My biggest frustration with apps is iOS's lack of a well thought out launching experience, although I'm getting better about using Spotlight, but it's irregularly available, and swiping down is too common an action within an app.

>it's because the vast majority of apps are simply >designed to data mine or pump advertisements

This mirrors my experience. I derive all the value I'm looking for from my personal and work mobile devices (yes I like to keep them separate) with less than five apps beyond the vendor+carrier distribution on each.

This is particularly true for my work device, which is a BlackBerry Z30. There aren't many apps available for this environment so the browser is the primary point of mobile interaction.

Your point regarding browsers becoming a modern Emacs is a concern and a good expression of the issue. I'm not sure what to do about this - I can only pick and choose a browser where options are available and look to configure it to my advantage. Any suggestions?

>I personally would rather have a dozen well crafted battery sipping native C apps than a million awful contraptions built in a script interpreter on to of a VM by the lowest bidder on ODesk.

Amusingly enough, you just described how apps worked on my first mobile device - a Windows CE PDA. There weren't a lot of free programs available, but the ones I could find were very well-designed.

- to data mine or pump advertisements

Perhaps check out the new permission model, which requests permissions at runtime, instead of upfront.

And about ads, more and more iOS apps are starting it too, i thought ( don't have iOS, read it from multiple sources)

The new permissions model on Android is a big improvement over the former "take it or leave it" approach, but applications can still deny service if you don't give them what they want. I can't comment on iOS because I've never owned an iPhone.

Perhaps I'm just spoiled by the excellent quality software I get for free on my Gentoo/Debian workstation. I just refuse to accept that because my phone fits in my pocket, the standards should be so much lower. I miss my n900 dammit. :/

After the first few paragraphs of content, the segue about 'bots' is strange -- unless it's not. Really this article is a thinly-veiled promotion of the idea of chatbots, which isn't surprising given the publisher's primary business is CRM and chat products and whatnot.

But it's also the Last New Frontier, because as the comScore charts show, most people spend their time in the top 3 apps -- which are probably the same or come out of the same pool of half a dozen. So the only way to push one's own content is to participate in a popular app maker's content ecosystem (FB Instant Articles, Snapchat Discover, myriad chatbot platforms for various messengers), or participate in a "open web" 'discovery' ecosystem (Google Search -> Google AMP).

So really the article's content seems to imply that the future isn't browsers (in the traditional sense of 'here's a user agent you can navigate to arbitrary URLs') after all, it's content aggregators who provide windows to -- and framing around -- content. This point has been made a few times before, most notably by Paul Kinlan of Google [1], so it's a pretty safe bet it's actually the case.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12206846

This is a really bleak future but all the signs are pointing towards you being right. Federated systems are out.

Wish you could favorite a post or soemthing. I feel that you pointed out some good points for marketing.

Click on the timestamp and you'll see a 'favorite' option.

What does that function do? Does it only provide me a list of comments I favored or can user niftich see "yay so many people favored me"?


This comes up from time to time and I still don't see it. The idea of packaged web apps and web sites is as old as the smartphone (and older on some platforms). Even today, I can tell what experience on my devices are packaged web apps and I don't enjoy them. UI elements don't look right, navigation elements don't behave properly, keyboard shortcuts are wrong. Web apps can be sufficient for some scenarios, but they don't lack the magical feeling of native apps.

Wait until mobile OSes start building a native presentation layer built on WebAssembly.

Apple already tried that approach with the iPhone one. It failed because the technology wasn't mature, but there have been nothing but advances since then.

The web is a more flexible and portable platform, so the economic incentives will always be there. And while native toolkits are still based on 1970's lab research, the web as a platform benefits from mainstream usage by the whole world. At some point, the new tech will overcome and replace the old approach. The gap is getting smaller every day even if the old approach has decades of advantage, and all major tech providers are pushing for it.

With the security sandbox of the browser functionality is inherently limited (by design) compared to native apps which have less-limiting restrictions.

Security and usability are inversely proportional and the browser needs that security more than anything else.

That being said, it's great to see the innovation in the web space. But it will always be limited to specific application domains and the standards move slowly

Even by 2009 it worked fine -- I had a Palm Pre, and the experience of using webOS on that hardware was always responsive and pleasant. (Palm Inc. and the Pre both had lots of problems, but webOS wasn't one of them.)

In fact if I had the opportunity to buy a webOS device today I would ditch Android in a hot minute...

You can buy some webOS devices today: LG's "smart" televisions. It's actually quite slick.

XUL again?

If it's more convenient to Google and Apple, they'll push for it, and we can only adapt.

But don't expect developers to ask for it. As it happens with those things, each platform will have their own, incompatible toolkits, and programming for them will not be much different than native programming.

Why haven't they built a native UI toolkit for JS, though? What will WebAssembly give them that makes it worthwhile?

The ability to leverage more native capabilities than JS can. A more generalized, less platform specific format for executable code already seems to be a goal for iOS and Android. Android of course has always used Java (well, Dalvik technically) bytecode, and Apple recently has started pushing their LLVM-based bitcode to reduce dependence on specific architectures.

If WebAssembly does a good job of exposing features needed for high-performance code, it could become feasible to move everything to WebAssembly and ditch support for native code on both platforms.

WebAssembly doesn't make native integration any easier than JS. Neither defines the exact way so called non-web embeddings actually are defined and both can support it. I honestly have no idea the relevance of WebAssembly in this discussion. Could you provide an illustrative example?

Edit: I should clarify that for certain types of apps WebAssembly might be relevant but the discussion seemed to be out UI layer and I don't understand how WebAssembly fills a gap that a native API in JS could also provide along with the same challenges.

I'm sorry, I'm using "native" in an unclear way (that should have been obvious to me). I don't mean it will help with native API integration (JavaScript can do that just fine), I mean as a replacement for machine code on both platforms. iOS of course uses machine code for everything, but on Android it's mostly whittled down to the minimum: things that Java can't do efficiently, or code that isn't Java. That's the role I hope WebAssembly can fill, but it still remains to be seen how usable their solutions for threads, SIMD, etc. are.

A good example is games. Some do manage to use Java, but it's mostly a hindrance; being able to compile languages with a C style ontology to a platform-independent and efficient VM would be very helpful here.

> Wait until mobile OSes start building a native presentation layer built on WebAssembly.

Is there any active project you can link to regarding this?

WebAssembly is too new for this to be a thing yet.

>native presentation layer built on WebAssembly

Is your prediction that companies will start compiling their UI toolkits for browsers?

Not op but it seems like a logical step to at least attempt to do this, or something similar.

For the operating system makers?

I don't understand why people love websites so much.

If a site is plaintext and has minimal JS, it's usually fine on a mobile device.

But the moment there are interactive elements or menus or web fonts or whatever else, things are visibly broken, or they become broken once you start scrolling. Even relatively inoffensive websites with simple menubars have stuttering scrolling animation.

Any decent native app doesn't animate that poorly. I'm an iOS user because design and UX are clearly valued by (non-shovelware) iOS developers. Having buttons jump around the screen or some weird JS stealing scrolling momentum would be unacceptable if it were in an app, but I visit at least one popular website a day where that's one of the problems.


View source.



Why is that more important than UX?

Those things ARE the user experience.

I disagree wholeheartedly.

Packaged web apps are the worst of both worlds: the inconvenience of apps and the speed of web sites.

But the article isn't talking about packaged web apps, it's talking about browsers, and has an interesting redefinition of that term.

What is the inconvenience of apps?

Besides having to wait for the installation, one important recurring inconvenience for me (on iOS) is the lack of autofill. Especially autofilled user names and passwords.

I really wish Apple would add a password-manager extension point to iOS. Since they're trying to push iCloud Keychain I'm not optimistic about this happening, but it would be a really nice way to make password managers more attractive.

Maybe it's just specific apps integrating with 1Password, but Mint, among other apps, already can do this (and it brings up what appears to be an iOS share sheet). But this feature has largely become irrelevant to me thanks to almost every app I use that requires sign-in supporting Touch ID.

> I really wish Apple would add a password-manager extension point to iOS.

They kinda have in 2 ways - as of iOS 9 or 10 your app can utilize login credentials from your web domain name if certain requirements are met, and there's touchID for instant login after the first authentication.

I use Lastpass and a lot of apps offer a weird icon next to the password box that opens a share sheet with LastPass as an option.

If you see an interesting link on the web, you generally feel safe clicking on it, and often click on it. Sometimes you get rick-rolled or whatever, but you just hit back.

If you see an ad or pop-up article about an app, what are the chances you install it, even if it looks interesting?

I feel very safe installing apps on my iOS devices. The sandboxing and app store review process gives me confidence that it's not going to be malware.

I click on links more than I install apps because loading web pages is a lot faster than installing apps. The flip side is that I hardly ever return to those "interesting links," while I use my installed apps frequently.

Most people only use 4-6 apps a day, or less. Users are spending more and more time in fewer apps. I reckon a good bit of that is the friction of installing new apps.

> The sandboxing and app store review process gives me confidence that it's not going to be malware.

I would re-evaluate that stance if I were you: http://www.wired.co.uk/article/xcode-apple-app-store-hack. Hundreds of apps injected with malware by a compromised version of Xcode made it through the App Store review process.

Needing to install, open and update an application to use a service as opposed to the 'convenience' of just entering a URL in a browser.

Web page does not need opening? Interesting… Updates happen automatically now.

After installing it, you need to open it (ok, it's easy). Updates frequently require approval of new permissions (android).

But the alternative seems to be browser exposing APIs for all those permissions through Javascript and the end-user not really having any control over that. Perhaps I'm just naive about it, since I really don't do Javascript-based development, but this seems to be a worse idea than apps.

Web pages don't require uninstalling when you decide they're not worth it.

On lots of old android devices: having to remove apps to make room for a new one

Even when you have tons of spaces on a huge sdcard even. This is incredibly frustrating as some devices were shipped with very very little space and too much of that taken up by the stuff that shipped with the phone that for whatever reason cannot be moved to your relatively large sdcard.

I think merged storage is either here in the latest version of android or coming which will hopefully let us stop worrying about storage again but many devices will sadly never see the update.

Having to install them, remember what screen and folder it's in, etc.

> remember what screen and folder it's in

How is this fixed by a web app you have to remember the address for, or at best, remember where on your favorites you saved it?

How much work is installing the app? Single tap? The same of less than opening a web page? No need to remember screen and folder, just use global search on your phone.

Assuming I'm linked right to the exact app to install.

Click install. Review and approve permissions. Wait for some ungodly amount of megabytes to download. Wait for installation. Then open. Then approve some new permissions. Splash screen. Woo, content! But I'm not "deep linked" to the place I need to be.

Or, for a website: I'm just there.

Well, it's not a lot of work. But it feels like way more work. It's visible even in the way we talk about it - "viewing a website" vs "getting an app". Looking at something is effortless, getting it implies effort. Often, too much of it, if I just want to check some stuff out quickly.

Also, I feel like after installing an app, it takes more time to get to the actual content, because every app has a few screens of "Welcome to Foo! Here's how you do stuff in here." Websites are pretty instant compared to that.

Whoa. If you want content quickly many apps will offer it in widgets. Many will show you notifications with ability to interact with them without even opening the app. There is nothing instant about websites.

I believe the contrast was between the following.

Open browser, create new tab or focus url, enter url

Open app store, search for app name, click on the one that seems correct, read reviews, click install, wait for installation to finish, open new app.

This of course is only valid for the trying a new application or website which hypothetically is 0.001% of your usage of an app.

My point was: There's no problem with casually checking out a website. But I'm probably not gonna install an app unless I'm pretty sure it offers me some value. Not rational? Possibly :)

Similar, but web pages are usable before fully "installed". Data has repeated shown that users quickly abandon websites that don't load extremely fast. Apps are like that, but even slower.

It's simple, when you want to do X, you want to do X, you don't want to do a lot of setup work before you start doing X.

In what world native apps are slower than web apps? And where do you find "extremely fast" websites, with all this JS frameworks crap and gazillion of trackers being pushed to your poor browser?

In ever world since you have to install them and you don't have to install web apps.

Where do you find those extremely small native apps that are smaller than a website?

It doesn't matter; worse is better. 1999 Yahoo Mail was not a good user experience, but it (and other web-based mail services) destroyed the likes of Eudora.

Ubiquity >>>>> UX.

Well its that, and that the users didn't need to configure a single thing when using the web thingy.

Problem is, imo, that so much of the web assumes a mouse and keyboard. I keep running into "mobile" sites that are so crammed with links and other tap targets that i have no chance to hit the right one on first try with consistency.

...so HN is your first point of call, where the tap targets are so easy on the web first interface...

Content is King

Not for me: HN is awful on a mobile browser, so I use an app (MiniHack). It's so much better than the mobile site that it has become my go-to counterargument whenever someone insists that the mobile web is going to displace apps any day now.

It used to be awful. Basically you would get the desktop site without resizing, small text, have to zoom etc. It's not like that now. Haven't seen an app that's any good and you don't need one. Site works well in mobile now.

HN is an outlier because there's no business model or team of OSS maintainers with motivation to improve it. I can't think of any other sites I visit in the same position.

It's not the only example though, just the one with the widest disparity. Reddit and Tumblr are also both considerably worse experiences on their mobile sites than their apps, assuming you know enough to get the good apps.

I just keep hearing posts about how the mobile web is so clearly superior to apps and it never tallies with the reality on the ground for me.

Though, being fair, MiniHack is literally one of the best and most focused apps on my phone! Such an amazing product, was well worth the couple dollars.

I'd say that ubiquity is a factor of UX.

Not for everyone.

I still use Thunderbird.

I agree.

Mobile is already maturing. By the time web technology is good enough to create a native-feeling experience, we will be on to the next runtime.

(Disclaimer: I do iOS consulting, so hugely biased)

You are one of the exceptions, most of us are happy with it.

I don't agree with the premise in the article that we are at a point were "4G everywhere" means you don't have to think about offline use. We don't have reliable 4G or even 3G everywhere.

Service workers etc add a lot of features to the web platform in this regard, but it doesn't seem fully solved yet.

How can I, as a user, ensure apps I use in the browser are available? If I want to use an app, I'd hate if the browser had cleared it (or worse, content edited offline that hasn't synced yet) from its caches since it decided it needed space. I haven't seen a clear way to "pin" an app's data in a browser UI yet.

(Of course there are tons of native apps that don't work offline as well, but I believe I can more reliably test that.)

"4G Everywhere" does not exist if you leave San Francisco.

You can smell the city on the authors of these thinkpieces.

We have reliable 4G in every big city in Romania. I live in Bucharest and have 7 GB of included 4G bandwidth, along with unlimited calls, SMS and included minutes and bandwidth in roaming, for only 18 EUR per month. And if you're willing to hunt for time-limited PrePay offers, there are offers right now for 10 GB of bandwidth for 6 EUR per month or something. And yes, it works very well - it actually works better than the broadband you can find in other countries.

Of course, out of the European countries, our Internet is in the Top 5 at least, if not dare I say it, the best I've seen.

So don't make the mistake to think that progress ends at the borders of San Francisco ;-)

I think 4G in Europe is generally pretty good, in the UK I'm getting 20GB 4G data, unlimited calls and texts for £20. However, on some networks 4G data can be pretty intermittant so you might not always be getting 4G :(

No, not in Germany, at least where I travel in Essen / Düsseldorf. There it sucks!

There's no 4G to speak of, you count yourself lucky to get 3G. And it's not just mobile, the Internet you get in hotels is so piss poor it's infuriating.

and 4G may solve bandwidth but it does not really solve latency.

It exists pretty much everywhere in more civilized countries, it is just US lagging years behind.

Berlin here. A lot of the suburbs and villages just an hour north in Brandenburg don't even have 3g, forget 4g. And we're not just talking spotty coverage, there's just nothing, you'd be lucky to check your email.

French here, living in Dijon, a regional major city, 2 hours from Paris. I live in city center, and I still only listen to downloaded content in my spotify app, because if I listen to it online while on the move, there's always a point when it will lag or just stop.

Providers tell the whole city is covered by 4g. In reality, as soon as you move, sometime you'll have it, sometime you won't. Friends report the same thing in other cities with other providers.

That's a big factor too, as soon as you're in motion signal degrades significantly.

Plus there are data caps on most people's plans IME.

Tell the French to open up the 800 MHz frequencies.

Really no; connectivity is horrible in many places throughout the world. You don't have to venture far from most cities to experience bad or dropped connections. All over the planet. Exactly why I always fall back to apps which are written with bad connectivity in mind. Forget the web there for now; it's horrible in those locations.

I'm not talking about the Appalachian coal hills here, I'm talking 20 minutes out of a metro area. I live in a decently sized city and I'm lucky if I have three bars.

And in some countries, we've got 4G in almost every cities.

At 15.99€ a month for 50GB (free, but reduced speed after that) too.

I couldn't get LTE between Munich airport and downtown when I was there on business recently.

This should never happen until the web radically changes. I'm fine with the "web" being the future if it can provide truly native experiences. It simply can't do that now.

1. People aren't downloading apps because they have most of the core apps they want/need currently, not because they're browsing the web instead. Look around on any college or high school campus. Barely anyone has mobile safari open. They have instagram, snapchat, a messaging app, and maybe Facebook open.

2. Bots are the future? We'll see. Nobody besides tech people seem to care about bots. I'm in tech and I don't even care about bots - yet. And again, look at today's high schoolers and college students - they don't care about bots.

> Barely anyone has mobile safari open.

I believe you are misinformed about this one. Not only is mobile Safari open, but it's open with a bunch of tabs.

Do you think I am correct in saying that Safari is used as a last resort? That's it for me anyway for more "daily driver" apps. FB/IM/Reddit/Translation/Maps/Etc I'd never want to use in Safari.

If I need to search some definition of a word, some image or whatever I'll use Safari.

Not saying it isn't great, I love to have a browser on my phone - I just don't actually like to use it. Just opening Safari now (it wasn't even in my app switcher list) I see a few categories: image searches, movie searches, definitions, "automatically opened via some app" and Facebook (that time when I uninstalled the app for some dev-testing and forgot to install it again).

   Do you think I am correct in saying that Safari is used as a last resort?
I suspect this is just not true.

Mobile Safari is open on every single person's phone. Those apps that you listed are the A-list of what everyone has on their phone. That doesn't trickle down to all the other apps that aren't Facebook or Instagram. Literally no one wants an app for every single site they happen to visit regularly. Hell, I've seen people leave an app and go to the site because some functionality didn't work or didn't exist on the app.

Why are you using 'college kids' as some metric?

So, the web is winning and native apps are going away, because the future is native apps which also implement browser-like features to display web content. Ok.

And I guess I'm weird because of my tech background, but I absolutely hate apps which present web content in their own browsers instead of my browser of choice.

Likewise. Even the Google app on Android annoyingly uses a weird 'Powered by Chrome' view.

Ugh, the Steam browser...

It's also a pain because of all the different standards a developer needs to support.

I never download apps anymore because they abused their privilege. No, I don't want to download an app that's just a less-featureful front-end to your webpage. Especially if you are going to need access to my contacts, location, and have notifications pop-up just because you can. Obviously there are exceptions that do need this access, but they are the vast minority IME.

It's kinda ironic that this is how every platform since Windows has died.

A major factor that pushed users away from Windows and towards webapps was the constant onslaught of viruses and worms. It got so bad that when I was in college (early 2000s), SQL Slammer would be perpetually floating around the college network (I noticed at least 4-5 computers infected in my dorm of 22 residents), and a significant portion of peoples' fileshares were infected with Nimda. The assumption was that if you had ever logged into a computer in administrator mode (and oftentimes, even if you hadn't), it was compromised.

And then desktop e-mail clients died under the onslaught of spam. GMail's spam filters basically saved e-mail (temporarily at least; people hate it again), and they could only be done on the server, with data from lots of people.

Then a major factor in the shift from web to mobile was the huge weight of advertising, clickbait, phishing, and other abuse. Webpages got so heavy and bloated that the clean, fast interface of a mobile app was a huge breath of fresh air.

Now we've got mobile, dying under the weight of apps that request every privilege under the sun so they can do things they shouldn't be able to. And Google, dying under the weight of SEO & content farms.

It's like the tech industry periodically gets reborn because as soon as something gets popular, people swoop in to abuse it, until it's easier to kill the patient and start over with a new platform than to clean up the mess. Full employment for entrepreneurs, I guess.

It is a social problem, there is a saying, "Humans are like pigeons, alone and in small groups they are elegant and nice, together in large group they are obnoxious and leave huge piles of corroding shit".

I guess the wild west of the web played out in the worst way possible. Because just like with the wild west, the bandits can outrun the lawman by slipping across borders.

I jump on the app when it first comes out, before they add all the extra permission requirements. I've got half a dozen ancient apps on my phone that I stopped updating when I felt like they were overreaching the permissions I think they should have. When the app stops working, it gets uninstalled. At that point, I'll just wait to get back to a PC.

It is not the first time I hear this from the Android side but never so far from iOS users. I think here the difference between the Android and iOS platforms wrt. permissions is significant. They are differently cut and policed from the store side. Manageability of security from a UX perspective is more complex and worse on Android.

On device storage of secrets or valuable private data is a key part of most "real" apps. Apps that do not need this may benefit from quickly improving web technologies. Apps that need this may prosper more on a security conscious platform.

Progressive web apps are seriously pretty darn awesome. It can work offline after running it once. Supports push notifications. You can ask the user to install the web shortcut to the homescreen. I remember being blown away by all of this with pokedex.org a year ago.

I had a low-end smartphone for the longest time where I had to fight for every byte on there. After installing Messenger & Instagram, I had less than 1gb left thanks to uninstallable bloatware (there was no safe way to root it). And the Play Store doesn't let you install apps/updates when you're near 300mb or so. My friends with iPhones/Nexus devices that don't sport an SD slot have also shared these sentiments, though most just need to learn how to offload their photos/videos to the cloud. Regardless, not having to install anything is a pretty shweet bonus.

Native apps are awesome. They have 10x more than you mentione with 10x less effort to develop.

iOS only recently became a pleasure to develop in with Swift, though the language is still in rapid development (read: constant updates with breaking changes). Android has and still is an absolute pain; I still don't think I've been able to successfully write an app that looks OK across device screens. Plus the whole fragment vs activity debacle. The whole process feels like a hack. Windows has always been a pleasure to develop in, but that's not where the users are at.

If you already do web dev, then learning service workers + local storage won't add much difficulty. Plus, they're excellent tools to add to your toolbelt that your future projects could benefit from. And you'd be encouraging Apple to step up the game with their IE- I mean Safari.

I've been doing iOS development for 7 years now it has always been a pleasure compared to web dev (which I have been doing for close to 20 years now). What's more important native development gets more and more pleasurable while I cannot say the same about web stack. It is close to jumping the shark if it hadn't yet.

What would you say is the best place to learn your way around / experiment / hello world those types of examples?

Google has a good intro on progressive web apps. https://codelabs.developers.google.com/codelabs/your-first-p...

Then you can grade how progressive your app is by running https://github.com/GoogleChrome/lighthouse

Push notifications still aren't widely supported, sadly. https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/API/Push_API

There's quite a sizable fence you have to jump to get into progressive web app development. They have to serve over https, localStorage & service workers can be a pain, and there's a lot of fallbacks to implement for unsupported browsers (I'm looking at you, Safari!).

There's also a great write-up on all that went into making pokedex.org http://www.pocketjavascript.com/blog/2015/11/23/introducing-...

The UK government apparently has mandated that all its apps be browser-based. They did this because their analysis found that browser-based apps cost considerably less to develop and to maintain. My own experience also bears this out.

People said this in 2008 when the first iOS and Android SDKs were released. They've been saying it every year since. It's now 8 years later and doesn't seem like it's coming true anytime soon.

Exactly what I wanted to say.

There is always someone bragging how some recent development made webapps even slickier and better performing than native ones, and every time I try it out, I'm hugely disappointed by a sluggish mess that barely manages to get most portions of native look-and-feel right.

Same applies when a "native" app uses an HTML/CSS renderer for its UI. For some reason I usually notice it. Well, at least it has some OS integration that way...

Not to say about the value of having an old version (does not apply to apps that are mere remote API adapters, but it's not like every app is like that).

So, I believe it's highly unlikely, no matter how many times this "webapp is the future" mantra is repeated.

There is a lot of focus being put on the fact that the mobile web can't provide a "native" experience, and I think that missed the point a little bit. In many cases, a "native" experience isn't needed, and a lot of things are being packaged into apps that can be served just as well over the mobile web.

Since users aren't always extremely excited to install an app for your new product or service unless it is going to be something they use every day, it makes sense to consider carefully whether everyone might be better served with a mobile website.

As a web developer, I've tried to make some simple game-ish apps in the web browser, and it doesn't go well. I'm not talking 30fps action titles. I'm talking board games.

One of the first problems I encountered was keeping the screen on. It's not possible in the browser. (Well, there's a workaround with a looping hidden video, but that's crazy.) Which means that people need to keep tapping the screen to keep it awake while playing. Super lame.

And of course, offline is possible in the browser, but clearing your cache for some reason, or just having it get stale, is brutal on that.

I tend to want to make browser-based apps, but it doesn't work out for anything that isn't always-online and pretty simple.

A "browser" is now just a medium for exploration? Not necessarily webpages, but whatever type of content the particular "browser" happens to revolve around?

That's not a legitimate redefining of the term "browser", just a convenient (and poor) definition that makes the author's argument (falsely) appear more sound.

Yeah, the author says "we don't use apps. Any apps you are using are actually browsers. We only use browsers."

"Browsers, not apps, are the future of mobile"

Yeah, you guys (who, exactly?) keep saying that, and it keeps walking further away from the truth, no matter the pressure (from whom, exactly?) to make the World swallow it.

Everytime this subject comes to light I can only picture one technology in my mind: Java Applets.

Mobile websites are fine for reading text. I find that with any website I visit repeatedly-- say IMDB-- I download the app.

People who talk down app always site that most people regularly use 3-4 apps. But then most people (not the ones on this site) probably regularly only visit 3-4 web pages.

Is there any useful data on web vs mobile app usage? I remember reading http://venturebeat.com/2015/07/28/think-the-web-vs-mobile-ap... (it might have been posted here), that suggested only in the USA was the mobile app king, and the much larger markets of East Asia preferred to browse the web. But not sure how representative their data source is.

I'm 59. Can someone post a link to a non-marketing explanation of bots as used in this article?

Chat bots. As in virtual assistants. Ask them in natural language for something they're built to provide and they'll try to get it to you (and mostly fail).

Well, something a little more meaty. How do they get on a consumer's phone. Is that "OK Google" thing a chatbot? How do other bots get there. Is there a network protocol particularly associated with bots, or is most of it done on the device.


No specific network protocol, no standards. They can be plugged into networks like FB Messenger, Telegram, Slack and so on. Some are straight-up independent apps. In Telegram for example all you have to do is to add the chatbot like another contact.

Conceptually they're not very different from IRC bots except for having natural language processing rather than simple regex/command capabilities.

Chat bots are associated with text, but Google Assistant and Siri are basically chat bots plugged into voice recognition and text-to-speech interfaces.

Speaking as a Telegram user:

Bots on Telegram can send and receive messages to you or a group.

My most used bot is one who watches HN for breaking stories and send me a link to the story and the comments.

Net result:

Spend less time checking HN, confident that I'll see 100+ story even if they die before I take lunch or have to wait for something anyway.

BTW: 100 is just an example threshold, you can send a message to the bot to set that to something else.

Ah, the good old "installs zero apps" statistics. Would you mind telling how much new web pages does average American open in a month? Let me guess: the same zero.

Given that the article considers viewing pages through Facebook embeds to be browsing, quite a large number.

They should count the same for the apps then too.

It's a balance, yea? On the one hand, apps that I use rarely that are totally functional via a mobile browser, such as Facebook or Google News, take up space on my phone and potentially Do Bad Things in the background. On the other hand, there's potentially more of my monthly data used when I visit the sites vs using the app.

I remember hearing about / reading about (here? on reddit? at a meetup? who knows) that the Chrome browser on android is going to begin implementing features that allow "psuedo-apps" to be developed. A browser favorite exists on the homepage and has a fat cache to save bandwidth, but isn't an app in the sense it can run in the background. I don't know too much about that, but what I DO know about are cool firefox and chrome Javascript methods like window.getDeviceOrientation or sendVibration or getLightLevel and other experimental features obviously focused on mobile devices.

At this point people have been talking about 'the future of mobile' for many years and most of the predictions haven't come true.

Just for fun I am going to say by 'the future' I mean fully 10-20 years from now.

The Google Assistant or intelligent/connected chatbot/agent will be in your brain (or maybe somehow just spying on subvocalization nerves/muscle twitches). You will have a brain computer interface (or something) that you use as naturally as breathing or thinking. This will also effectively give everyone telepathic and telekinetic powers.

Installing an app will be like with Amazon Alexa, giving you additional commands/AI capabilities.

Glasses and maybe contact lenses will use eye tracking and transparent OLED microdisplays to augment reality. The phone/BCI is tiny or mainly just a fast wireless transceiver to nearby distributed localized computing clouds.

Smart phones and apps will be for poor people.

I wish I could use mostly mobile sites instead of apps but the biggest thing that hurts the experience is the fact that ad networks still allow for ads on mobile which hijack the browser to open up the app store (at least this has what I've seen myself). So it's why I try to avoid most sites unless I use an ad blocker but even that doesn't guarantee some sleazy browser hijacking ad won't appear. If that issue gets fixed I can see more people using mobile sites over apps.

The problem with web applications is that in reality you have no chance to verify what you are running. You are entirely dependent on the website provider that the app you are running is not malicious. Thus you have no change to control your own privacy and security. For native apps you can somewhat control what you are running, e.g. by using open source software. Web apps are great for many things but I would hate to depend on them.

"web apps" in web browser is fine with me and what i do now mostly. the future of it could be that they are still advertised in the store but just add on favorites and the OS could implement a web shortcut that starts in a new tab perhaps. the web has come a long way for viewing and interacting in mobile.

Time machine to 1999 with my first smartphone Ericsson R380. Then to first iPhone. All had browser only apps with the story like this. All not good enough for really useful things. Yes, for web browsing browser is good enough, but not for more.

Using Patagonia as the harbinger for the downfall of apps is really poor. Patagonia's website is horrible on a mobile device - especially for a "premium brand".

Contrast with Lululemon's mobile app, which is an absolute delight to use. I don't buy the authors thesis at all.

Patagonia on mobile web works fine for me. Everything functions properly and is easy to use. I don't know what device you use. Never used the other site you mentioned.

I wish it was more common for apps to release a free version and a pro version. I'd love to spend more money to get high quality apps, but I'm not comfortable paying for an app without trying it first.

It's logical. As mobiles become more powerful, and efficient, and batteries become better, we should see the ecosystem move to where laptops/desktops are today. Chrome is the most used app on my laptop.

Try: web is the future of ALL apps. Its hilarious in a roundabout way, weve finally solved the problem of software on incompatible OS's...through a browser.

Tweets, not blogs, are the future of writing. Online food delivery, not groceries, are the future of eating. Virtual reality, not real reality, is the future of life.

Opinions we will have always.

I want to believe this is the case, but the article doesn't manage to convince me. It doesn't provide a single valid argument that can substantiate its claim.

The browser, arguably, is the greatest app of all time.

And that's a shame.

I agree with native apps not being useful for many cases. However I don't think that means the old web is the future.

It is true that companies like Patagonia don't need a native app. In fact, most native apps from large media companies and brands are unnecessary.

However, I also think the "native app" form factor has not been explored to its full potential. There are definitely a lot of benefits to apps being native, and they're not what most people think.

One of the most under-appreciated reason is that you have a dedicated icon you can press to enter a new world. This works both ways, because in the current world we live in, people don't want a "dedicated icon" for every single brand they engage with. But this is where my point starts:

People use bookmarks because they want to easily access things they frequently use. The problem is, the appstore is filled with apps that people don't use frequently enough and don't care enough about. We are forced to "bookmark" every single app we download. That's why people don't like clogging up their "bookmark screen" and end up deleting apps.

On the other hand, I think there are tons of potential apps that are NOT being built, that I would be happy to keep on my home screen if they existed. For example, let's say I visit a certain indie coffee shop every day. I would download their app if they had an app that makes my life easier. For example they could have a Starbucks-like app where I can order stuff easily without staying lining up. Also, I would download an app that's super customized for a community I am very attached to.

Then why don't we have these apps in real life? The problem is these organizations and small coffee shops and our small interest groups don't have time and money to build these apps. And not even considering time and money, they just don't want to bother since they have a lot on their hands already.

I think, once we make it extremely easy to build an app (and I'm not even talking about all the "app builders" out there. It should be as easy as copy and pasting MySpace scripts), we will have more useful and personal apps that people would actually want to keep on their screen, just like a bookmark. We are just not there yet.

I've been working on a project that's along this line of thought. It's basically a native app meets browser, where you can send an entire app over HTTP (just like websites), but it translates into 100% native components and native function calls. If you're interested check it out here: https://github.com/Jasonette/JASONETTE-iOS Would love to hear thoughts in the current thread context.

Nice idea with Jasonette, but it only works for UI rendering, nothing more complex beyond that, right?

How about a web spec for creating sandboxed native UI? Would go nicely with WASM.

There is already one(i.e. HTML5 input types) but it's quite incomplete and poorly supported so we have to reinvent the wheel with CSS and JS which makes the web apps inconsistent and slow. The main issue is that the internet must be backwards compatible and browser vendors are reluctant to provide shiny features due the maintenance costs.

Hopefully WASM will fix the performance issue and the internet speed will get fast enough to compile and serve mature frameworks such Cocoa.

Is there a way to bypass HTML completely?

Yes, you have poor souls re-inventing desktop UI toolkits by making the web page a gigantic canvas or webgl content.

Yea, but that still involves calling through HTML/DOM to access basic graphics contexts.

which is technically still embedded in an HTML document

Yes, hence why I mentioned poor souls, trying to bend a document platform into something that is natural in native code.

There is a design doc describing non-Web embedding for WASM:


That doesn't mention HTML but focuses on avoiding JS entirely, so presumably there'd be some more direct way to invoke the program (but don't take my word for it ;) )

Yes. Make a native app.

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