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Ask HN: Are there any startups making desktop apps?
71 points by hikz on Apr 29, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments
There are tons of VC-backed startups making mobile and web apps but are there any VC-backed startups making a desktop app?



I've heard a few times that creating a decent desktop program with a GUI takes far more skill and experience. I can see why that is, since a fully fletched desktop program can be orders of magnitude more complex than most of the mobile and web apps.

I'd love to see more of the bleeding edge desktop software like the Adobe stuff, Blender, all the DAWs for Audio, etc. But it feels to me that not very many programmers have the skill to pull something like that off. Also, there doesn't seem to be much of an incentive left to invest into such things.

I would very much want that the mind set changes a little bit. Great desktop software makes a profit from selling to customers who value quality and awesome features. I wonder why that is not enough incentive for ambitious programmers. I only ever hear about developers for mobile and web apps getting a lot of money for things I seriously don't care about.

I have the feeling that we use desktop computers for the same things we used them ten years ago. I can't even remember when I had the last "I need that!"-moment for desktop software. So why can't we reinvent the desktop with software, like many try to reinvent what phones and web apps can be used for?

It's like the desktop computer in this day and age is slowly reduced to a platform (OS) for a platform (browser) for web apps. That's probably why many can get by with a tiny laptop or even a chromebook, which is probably the culmination of that thought.

However, I've not lost all hope. My bet is on virtual reality. If someone can build a really awesome VR application where everybody's like "I need that!!!", I can see how the desktop could return to its former glory, considering that a decent VR needs a ton of compute. But there's still the problem that VR is hard, GPU programming is hard, 3D is hard, parallelization is hard and optimizing is hard.

So are there any pioneers left with an enormous amount of skill and time who would risk to start such a glorious and uncertain journey without some VC guy dropping a few million dollars on the table? Or are we all going to end up as web developers because that's where the capital seems to be?


I don't think it's more skill, just different. I currently work on a DAW. I left for a while because I thought my skills were becoming obsolete and I needed to get in on this 'web' thing. I was useless and I lasted 9 months. To just jump in and learn html/js/css + everything else you need to be a web developer is a huge task. And a lot of stuff just doesn't work -- and the only way to know how to get it to work is experience.

By contrast I think C++ and realtime audio programming is simple, but I've slowly picked it up over almost 20 years. I retreated back to desktop apps and firmware. I'll take another stab at learning web technologies, but not at a startup where I need to deliver asap and learn at the same time.

As much as developers hate sandboxes, the lack of one (except Mac OS until recently) is why I think desktop is failing. Users just don't feel safe installing random software like they do going to websites or installing mobile apps. Users have been conditioned to only install software from sources they trust, and they trust no one.

If I post a link to my new web project, most people will click on it. If I post a link to an .exe almost nobody will download it. I think that's the main issue killing the desktop. Big downloads, compatibility issues, slow installs are also an issue, but I think they are secondary.


It's rarely a good idea to abandon all your experience just because the web stuff seems fancy or fun (I don't think it is). Your skill is rare (much rarer than html/js/css), so you should use it to your advantage.

The goal for the desktop that I was talking about had nothing to do with these webby things. These should stay on the web and do their thing. You can have those small simple programs as a web app and on your phone. I think the downfall of the desktop is that people use them as if they were feeble things with a mail program and a web browser and some office programs on it, when they're actually capable of much more, which isn't leveraged except for some professional programs and games.

The desktop is - in my opinion - not primarily meant for little things. The desktop can and should handle the bleeding edge of high performance, parallel and accelerated computing that can't possibly run on anything else but a desktop. If we would stop thinking about whether a program will run well on a phone and explicitly target real computers, there would be a lot more purpose to desktop computing.

I'm not sure what that might be that doesn't exist, yet (maybe VR). But I'm sure that you can't do this all by yourself in a windowless room over a weekend, it'll probably be a large project involving quite a few programmers.

Then, the question of whether users will download your software is not the same as whether they will click on a website. Then, it's the same question as will they download Photoshop, will they download Reaper or will they download Maya? Will people download the next big thing in desktop computing?


I have seen some but they are not in the B2C space. Usually in specialty B2B space.

A lot of medical applications (signal processing, visualization, robot control) tend to be traditional desktop applications.

Also military applications for analysis, and planning are often desktop based because they can not use consumer mobile devices nor can they rely on the "cloud".


This "Ask HN" question makes me feel really, really old.


agree, it seems like just yesterday there were only desktop apps and mobile / web apps were a new thing!


Neonto:

http://neonto.com

Mac desktop app (native Cocoa + OpenGL, no web views).

Desktop is pretty much necessary for this tool because it needs to integrate with Xcode and Android Studio.


Feem - LAN chat/file transfer utility. cross platform (Linux/Mac OSX/Windows Desktop/"Modern" Windows/Windows Phone/iOS/Android/). Trivia 1: We are based in Cameroon/Africa. Trivia 2: I'm the sole developer.


This is actually a pretty cool tool, going to use this. Frequently need to transfer stuff from my iPhone/iPad/Macbook to and from my windows desktop and google drive is not always necessary :)


http://www.jamkazam.com - we are not yet VC-backed, but I hope so soon.

Because latency is an absolute premium for playing music in real-time across the internet, we've focused first on the desktop, where we have the most control ... but still find a ton of challenges.

If you saw this recent article about Android and audio latency, you can see why there are challenges in the mobile space: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9386994

If you were to try and build a web-only version of JamKazam, WebRTC is your best bet but it does not have low enough latency, either.


That is amazing. Sad that your initial crowd funding was unsuccessful.

Have you tried to tell about your product on reddit? There are many subreddits interested in tech like this and in indie music production.


I can think of Dropbox, Slack, GitHub right now.


Slack's desktop client is really just a wrapper around a web browser.


Electron, specifically...

https://github.com/atom/electron/


Interesting. I haven't used it because they don't support Linux yet. (EDIT: I mean Slack, not electron)


You can build a wrapper (using a webview) of slack web with nw.js or electron... You'll get pretty much the same functionalities, including desktop notifications for the chats.


It's still a desktop application.

Just built with web technologies vs natively compiled binaries, which is an implementation detail that shouldn't matter to the end user, in my opinion.


Spotify and Skype come to mind as well.


Spotify uses Chromium Embedded Framework to serve a lot of UI elements via HTML/CSS/JavaScript[0]. Anecdotally, there seem to be a number of desktop apps moving in this direction.

[0] http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-technology-behind-the-Spoti...


Is Skype considered start up?


I'm trying to figure out how he made the small grey lines under the subtitles like "Coding Skills" and "Design Skills"....can't figure out what's creating it. Anyone?


You're in the wrong thread. :-)

But to answer your question anyway, this is the responsible line of code: https://github.com/marekdlugos/TakeMeAsIntern/blob/master/as...


Oh whoops good point. dunno how I managed that. astute connection made on your part, wow!


What is the correct thread? I am curious to what this comment is about now?



Interesting topic.

http://microisv.com/ has some info.

Andy Brice's blog, Successful Software, sometimes has articles about other mISVs than himself. He has a product, Perfect Table Plan, that has done quite well. And he recently created another product that has also started doing well.

http://successfulsoftware.net/


In the traditional, server-independent, sense? Hard to serve advertisements that way.

There's always a lot of new game studios, but I don't think they count. There's no end-game in games development, no lock-in, no network-effects, no industry-standard-status. A single bad game can ruin the studio.


The only studios that have lock in and network effects are those that launch successful MMOs. And the only independent company running a successful MMO at the moment is, as far as I know, CCP Games. Blizzard doesn't really count - they haven't been an independent company since 1994.


Startup game studios are startups. Many game studios do get acquired or IPO, classic startup end-games. Game studios also satisfy your other criteria, but since when are those criteria for calling a company a startup?

For example, a single bad product/service can kill any startup, not just a game studio.


Of course, but generally a startup grows to a certain size and becomes a safe corporation. A game studio is like a startup that can't succeed, only survive. The games industry is pretty unique in the software world in that there's no/little help in old successes. It's got more in common with consulting than it does with Google/Dropbox/Facebook.


Madden NFL is a counterexample. That game came out in 1988. Not many software companies can say they've been working on the same software series since 1988. Will Dropbox still be relevant in 2035?

Madden NFL is not the only example of a "safe", long-running game series (franchise). Wikipedia has a list:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_longest-running_video_...


Spotify have a web app, but their native app is much better (because apparently that is where they focus).


http://www.boxifier.com - Sync and backup any folder to Dropbox. 100% desktop app.

We are bootstrapped. An app like ours probably wouldn't make sense for a VC to back but it feels really great knowing that people from all over the world use it to backup their external drives to Dropbox or collaborate on the files on their NAS using Dropbox.

At one point you might feel out of the trend for not building a mobile or web app but I guess what matters is that your app helps someone, regardless of it being a web, mobile or desktop app.


There may be a diminishing audience of consumer desktop users, but I don't see the business audience of desktop users dwindling. But B2B enterprise software doesn't get the coverage of fast-growing consumer startups. Are there industry-specific news sources to uncover some of this? I have a few web apps that target business, and they simply wouldn't ever be utilized on a mobile device. There's some things that presently and always will require a desktop setup.


Nylas are, in addition to their open source sync engine: https://nylas.com/


We're using their Sync Engine and while it still took a good bit of time to implement, I'm sure it saved us a ton of time in the long run.


Medical imaging desktop app http://www.truelifeanatomy.com.au/software/software-overview... We built it 10+ yrs back and we are still waiting for the big break which I guess in the medical field will come only once the big boys die off.. too many entrenched interests.


Just FYI I noticed a small typo on that page: "This places a significant stain on the hardware" stain -> strain.




Curse Voice: http://beta.cursevoice.com/ We are building a cross platform communication app specifically for gamers. Currently only the Windows desktop application is publicly available. Mac, iOS, and Android are all in development and will be available soon.


We are! http://fetching.io

Granted our desktop app is a highly customized version of our hosted web app. We use NWJS to package up our Meteor app (along with elastic search and mongo) to create a secure, local-only version of our personal web search tool.


We have a product that provides licensing and copy protection for desktop apps http://www.licensespot.com

We've been growing our customer base steadily. So the answer is yes, lots of startups doing desktop apps.


Sia: siacoin.com

github.com/NebulousLabs/Sia

We're ultimately trying to build a decentralized object store Platform, but our initial approach is a desktop application. We're hoping that the majority of embedded and streamed content on the web is stored on and fetched from our Platform.


Stuff like this seems really interesting to me. How is Sia different from filecoin?

http://filecoin.io/


Close.io -- http://close.io

We have a native Mac and Windows app which uses Chromium embedded to wrap our core web app then adds our call stack (based on PJSIP) so you can make sales calls right within the app.


AeroFS on multiple platforms including MacOS, Windows & Linux https://www.aerofs.com/



I'm interested in this, are there any similar solutions for windows and/or linux?



evernote's motto is "notes everywhere" or smt like that. They are building desktop app yes, but this app is also js and browser extension.

not counts. sorry evernote, I loved you though.


That's nonsense. Evernote are a 'startup' in a sense, and have a desktop app (probably one of the primary ways people have interacted with it). It's literally exactly wha the author asked about.

It's exactly the sort of service that I want a desktop app for too. I mean, I stopped paying after it deleted a bunch of my content, but still…


Not VC backed-up but we are fairly big. We are building a web application security scanner - www.netsparker.com

It's Windows only / .NET


Yep, we are at Ionic, though it's more of a supporting tool for a bigger service (much like GitHub for Mac, etc.).




Mac App "Sketch" and "Hyper 3".


we have a hybrid desktop/web app www.iorad.com. The desktop app does the captures and sends it to the web page for configuring.


Pinegrow is a new desktop app from a startup, but I'm not sure if they have VC backing.

http://pinegrow.com/


http://www.installmonetizer.com/

Probably funded by YC IIRC.


Somebody with too much money should buy this company and then bury it somewhere very deep.


Buying them would be rewarding them.


Or, you know, people could start paying for software. (I know, I'm a dreamer.)


Actually most are making native mobile apps. I'm a mobile guy making a cross compatible web app. Why anyone would make a native app in our world of ECMAScript6 and HTML5 is beyond me.


Having sane tools, languages and adequate performance maybe. :)


The web will eat up everything, watch.


"Will" is not the same as "already has."


There are many reasons to build native apps in the enterprise IT (business software) world. For certain use cases, access to offline data and fast performance become critical requirements.

Think of a traveling sales rep who is on the road and needs access to a product catalog and pricing information to take sales orders. HTML5 doesn't quite cut it in such a scenario.


Why couldn't this sales rep use a mobile connected ipad to access a web app with pricing and ordering?


In several industries, sales reps often travel to locations without internet access (such as factory shop-floors, construction sites, mining sites etc). In such cases, the rep simply has to fire up the product catalog, capture orders, take notes etc and then sync up when he returns to an office/hotel room.

This is in fact one of the most common reasons for companies to look for native apps.


You can use PhoneGap or similar libraries however to write the app in HTML5 so you can have a mobile app and an online version for minimal effort.


you can use local storage or a number of other workarounds to solve this problem.


clearly you haven't seen Breeze http://www.getbreezenow.com/


I've not worked with Breeze but have seen a couple of other HTML5-based frameworks that promise "native-like" capabilities. For the data-heavy enterprise world, none of them have worked.


I have used Breeze and it works beautifully. It is a bit complex but the results give you a very native like experience.

Ward Bell talks about it briefly here: http://www.viddler.com/v/94a02c0f

There are a few google talks about it on youtube too if you look. It's great for enterprise.


The fact that you even have to use phrases like "a very native like experience" should be enough to show you that JS+HTML5 is not yet enough.


Where do you get the statistic that "most" HN folks are making native mobile apps? Are you sure it's not server-side software, or machine-independent code, or something else?

i.e. [citation needed]

Also, the reasons people make native mobile apps rather than hybrid apps (which run inside a mobile web-player component) are speed and reliability. Famously, Facebook switched from HTML5 to native for their iOS app:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-engineering/under-th...


Maybe less so the case with HN but certainly the case. Just look at Product Hunt where nearly half of today's posts are mobile native apps. Facebook has since built and released React. I'm willing to bet Facebook will switch away from native again.


Facebook is building something they call React Native, which, as I understand it, lets you code an app using JavaScript and web stuff, but then it transforms all of that into native code that gets compiled to run on the various mobile operating systems. I think it's currently iOS-only. Facebook says they're already using it for multiple production apps, but I don't know which ones.

https://facebook.github.io/react-native/


Because your web app will appear sluggish to your users compared to a native app.

http://blogs.telerik.com/appbuilder/posts/13-11-21/what-exac...




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