back to article App Store not invited to web's date with destiny

Just as the web seemed to have won - with consumers living their lives online through Facebook and Google and enterprises embracing cloud computing - along comes the mobile app to spoil the party. And while mobile apps aren't the only force prompting a reconsideration of the web, as noted in The Economist, no single factor may …


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  1. Chad H.

    Lost me in the first paragraph.

    The web never "won". I don't think there ever was a contest between "apps" and the web, just as there is no contest between a screwdriver and a hammer.

    Two different tools for two different sitations. Computer apps were never truly displaced by the web, the idea that there would be no space for mobile apps is utter ridiculousness.

    1. Stuart Castle Silver badge


      I agree with the above. The web is a tool. So are App Stores.

      Both the Web and locally stored apps have pros and cons. As such, I don't believe the web will entirely take over from locally stored apps.

      The pros for Web Apps are:

      Always up to date.

      Data can be made available anywhere.

      Little or no installation required.

      The cons are:

      They need an internet connection (not always a given, especially if used on a mobile on Public Transport).

      They can involved large amounts of data transfer (a major limitation with current mobile tarrifs).

      What happens if you have a large amount of data stored in an app and the manufacturer stops it (as happened with Google Wave)?

      What happens if the company hosting it folds? OK, this is not likely to happen to Google at the moment (I say at the moment because I have seen many companies who are the current in thing as Google is in the industry suddenly fail after they fall out of fashion), but how are people going to be affected if the bailiffs just come in and switch off the servers?

      Standalone apps:


      Always available, whether or not an internet connection is.

      Will only transfer data if they need to, and often in a lot lower amounts than web based apps.

      As long as it works with any new OS updates etc, the App is still usuable regardless of whether it's still actively supported by it's manufacturer.


      Can be difficult to update.

      Apps often need installation.

      Personally think we are in the same cycle we've been in since the sixties..

      Let me explain that. In the 60s, apps were run centrally on Mainframes and Minis, and shared amongst multiple users. The situation proposed in this article in different in only one way. The Apps are hosted in Data Centres that are run by hosting companies.

      These gave way in the late 70s/Early 80s to Personal Computers running individual copies of apps, because of the percieved speed and power advantages, not to mention cost (not everyone could afford their own mainframe or mini).

      I dare say that in 10 years, the same will happen again. We'll have been using cloud based apps for a few years, found that they are slow (whether thats due to problems at the hosting provider, or with the network) and move back to locally stored apps again..

    2. Lamont Cranston

      "Computer apps were never truly displaced by the web"

      I'm not sure that this is over, yet, as I can easily imagine cloud-based apps becoming dominant in the home market (less likely in business), particularly if we all start buying tablets (or netbooks) - e.g. who needs email client software at home?

      As for mobile apps, I'm not sure I really understand the point of them, when my phone has a web browser. Maybe it's my age...

    3. Lewis Mettler

      not necessarily

      Certainly there is room for apps but not the way Apple has forced the issue.

      Apple wants to force products and services available through an app to cost 42.8% more. It does this by insisting that Apple customers pay a high enough price to cover Apple's 30% cut on subscriptions.

      And why would any consumer want to pay 42% more? Only idiots will.


      But, Apple also wants to force all subscriptions to cost consumers the same high price whether or not they buy fhrough an Apple app store. Just read the policy. It states that goal very clearly.

      It is illegal for Apple to try to control the retail price of any product or service when sold through another channel. But, the idiots at Apple have tried to do it anyway.


      Because otherwise Apple customers would see how expensive Apple products and services are. If you eliminate price competition elsewhere Apple users can be kept in the dark. And they can be kept paying the high prices.

      So while there is room for mobile apps, Apple makes them a lot more expensive. And fools and idiots will pay those higher prices just because they do not know any better.

      Either that or those products or services will not be available through Apple. And Apple likes to think it can maintain a monopoly on any number of products and services by keeping them out of the app marketplace. Again, if Apple customers do not see a cheaper price they are likely to pay the high one. Or, continue to buy from the store free of competitive forces.

      Beware of the high prices forced by Apple upon its own customers. Check to verifiy that cheaper prices are available elsewhere. With a 30% markup they will be cheaper elsewhere. Or, if not, avoid doing business with the company altogether. And that includes Apple.

      Oh, and tell your friends to avoid Apple as well. Unless you like being over charged some 42%.

      1. ThomH

        @Lewis Mettier

        Your central thesis that "Apple customers would see how expensive Apple products and services are" if the App Store were optional for application acquisition doesn't seem to stand up to muster on the following grounds:

        Yes, Apple keep 30% of the price of every application sold. But so do Google, and so do most other companies. So, life outside the walled garden (as in, completely outside — hardware and software) seems to have a similar cost, to the extent that Apple's main mobile ecosystem competitor charges the same amount without a walled garden.

        The Internet remain free to access. Apple customers continue to buy Apple products even though they can presumably tell the cost difference between walking around with an Android/Blackberry/Bada/Symbian/whatever and pulling that out to check email and look at the web versus walking around with an iPhone and pulling that out to check email and look at the web.

        It would therefore seem to me that (i) the costs for services are in line with the rest of the market; and (ii) in any case, they're not obscuring the cost of products.

        Apple's subscription play (especially the requirement that the best price offered elsewhere also be available in app but if bought by that route will yield 30% to Apple) is likely anticompetitive but it's not designed to affect the perception of consumers and doesn't have that effect.

      2. Chad H.

        @ lewis

        You better then tell your friends to avoid the high street... They make things cost st least double!

        (seriously, a 30% markup is cheap - try getting 70% of rrp out of tesco!

  2. ratfox
    Thumb Up

    Good points

    The web is great because of the URLs linking from site to site. Not because it allows us to download programs and run them on our computers.

  3. bojennett

    It's because HTML sucks, dude

    1) customers want apps that look good and are easy to use

    2) developers will gravitate to the tools that provide that experience to customers with the least amount of effort.

    HTML5 is an ungodly pain in the ass to code to. And takes many more lines of code to do something (say, add a nice fading shadow under an object) compared to an app language (in iOS, this is 3 lines of code (shadowColor, shadowOffset, and shadowRadius). And don't even get me started on how hard it is to do a dynamic, scrolling list/table view compared to a TableViewController in iOS.

    Can I find and install a library in HTML5 that will allow me to do this? Yes. Why would I, that's more work!

    I can't understand the whole fascination with HTML5. HTML is a "presentation" language. A language that had its roots in the text-oriented document creation languages like LaTeX. Over the years, it has had numerous amounts of crap glued onto it to make things interactive. I could make PostScript or LaTeX interactive, too, by glomming the same amount of junk onto it, but why in the world would I? Other than masochism?

    If a language had existed that could provide the user experience that iOS or even Android's Java version does, I would have used it. But it doesn't. The learning curve to make HTML5 do what you want it to do is MUCH, MUCH, higher. And the benefits "it's portable" are lame. I can write an Android app and an iOS app - 2 independent apps - in the time it would take me to do a cross-platform HTML5 app. And each will look better than the HTML5 version. And my IP used to develop it would be private (unless I wanted to open it up).

    You HTML5 people... you need to get over yourselves. The fact that you can make it work at all as an application framework is truly commendable. You've done the equivalent of bolting a jet engine onto a bicycle bike frame. The fact that the bike doesn't blow up is awesome - but that doesn't mean I want to ride it.

    1. Matt Asay

      Maybe not

      I suggest you take a look at Sports Illustrated's newest app and try to find any - any - HTML5 ugliness in it. You won't. Why? Because where a native look/feel is needed, they used native. But 90%+ is HTML5 (which is very easy to code if you use a good framework).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No, no, you lot need to get over yourselves.

      Today must be opposite day.

      1) Can use HTML apps on phone, laptop, and desktop;

      2) Can write all those apps once.

      "HTML5 is an ungodly pain in the ass to code to."

      Less of a pain than coding an app for each platform.

      "And takes many more lines of code to do something (say, add a nice fading shadow under an object) compared to an app language (in iOS, this is 3 lines of code (shadowColor, shadowOffset, and shadowRadius). "

      And it's three lines of "code" in CSS. Or one if you can't be fucked with carriage returns.

      How many lines of code is it in AndroidOS? How about WinOS? How about SomeOtherOS? And exactly how many version of AndroidOS and WinOS are there? And do they all have the same APIs and libraries and capabilities?

      "And don't even get me started on how hard it is to do a dynamic, scrolling list/table view compared to a TableViewController in iOS."

      It's as simple as using the same fucking component I've been using for the last five years. Except it's mine, and I get to improve it with new ideas every couple of months. Still takes me ... 5 lines of code to add a scrollable table with sorts, filters, aggregates, custom action buttons, oh a bunch of stuff that yours can't do.

      Yeah, I did have to code all that myself, but ... problem solving is what attracted me to coding. If I wanted to just drag some shit around in a GUI and press "build" I'd be ... playing computer games for a living.

      "Can I find and install a library in HTML5 that will allow me to do this?"

      I don't even know what this means? Install it on the server? I suppose the TableViewController in iOS isn't part of a library, but is magically created by shiny pixie shit?

      "You've done the equivalent of bolting a jet engine onto a bicycle bike frame."

      Rocket bike? Sounds kinda fun. Your model requires an app for each and every company, product or service. Slowest. Hand. Clap. Ever.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Doing it wrong...

      Firstly I agree with your overall point that a native app is better than a web app *as thing currently stand*. Matt Assay has been disingenuous in his article and should know that it isn't just "HTML5" (Honestly Matt, what the fuck is a HTML5 company?!) that is used in the development of web apps. I have to pull you upon some wild inaccuracy though;

      1. "HTML5 is an ungodly pain in the ass to code to" Really? It's a markup language! It's not really built for 'coding'. Sure, the semantics may have been muddied by the addition of new structural elements, and the 'meaning' of some older elements may have been changed, but it's really easy to 'code'.

      2. "And takes many more lines of code to do something (say, add a nice fading shadow under an object) compared to an app language (in iOS, this is 3 lines of code (shadowColor, shadowOffset, and shadowRadius)." First, you don't apply a 'nice fading shadow' with HTML. Ever. For that you'd use CSS3. So lines of code would be; "<link rel="stylesheet" href="style.css" />" (you don't even need to include the 'type' attribute anymore!) in the HTML document and ".element_foo { box_shadow: 0 0 15px #444; }" in the linked css file. The first two numbers are analogous to 'shadowOffset', the third to 'shadowRadius' and the last bit /should/ be self-evident! Two lines of 'code' and one less than your example. More characters perhaps...

      3. "And don't even get me started on how hard it is to do a dynamic, scrolling list/table view compared to a TableViewController in iOS." I'll give you that. It's a little trickier and a *good* reason why native > web at the moment.

      4. "Can I find and install a library in HTML5 that will allow me to do this?" Try using JavaScript instead perhaps? HTML5 doesn't really do "libraries", it's not what it's for...

      5. "I can't understand the whole fascination with HTML5. HTML is a "presentation" language" Ah. Things are clearer now. HTML isn't, and never *really* has been a "presentation language". It's got absolutely nothing to do with LaTeX at all. The clue is in the name *H*yper*T*ext (that the bit relating to it's ability to link pages) *M*arkup *L*anguage. There it is! it's a markup language. based on SGML. Look it up.

      For the rest, google AJAX. Actually, Then, if you can stay awake, go to and learn a lot. That's where you are going wrong. I'm not suggesting for one minute that this is a better route to take than native coding because at the moment it isn't, although it's not as bad as you make out. You need to stop thinking about HTML as a programming language, which would help clarify your obvious confusion. Remember; HTML for structure, CSS for layout and presentation, JavaScript (or Ruby or Python or whatever) for interactivity. It really isn't *that* hard.

    4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: HTML sucks

      Up to a point...

      "HTML is a "presentation" language."

      And that's the point. Something like CSS is a presentation language. HTML is for the presentation-agnostic markup. Sadly, several trillion cretins masquerading as "web programmers" have made the same mistake you just made and, as a result, the web sucks if accessed it through a 2 or 3 inch screen.

      Apps are typically designed to be used on the devices in question. The average web page is designed to be viewed on the 30 inch screen (or so it seems). It is no great surprise that one delivers a better end-user experience, but it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, with more and more people accessing the web through small format devices rather than traditional desktops, there is every possibility that it won't be that way in a few years time.

    5. Windrose

      Eh, wot?

      'HTML is a "presentation" language. A language that had its roots in the text-oriented document creation languages like LaTeX.'

      I can only conclude you know neither language. HTML has nothing what so ever to do with LaTeX - it is, if illegitimate, a child of SGML and the generic coding work done way back in the aftermath of WWII.

      It has been USED as a presentation language, but a billion flies may eat shit as much as they like without it becoming a good idea.

      Personally I find HTML 5 a huge mistake. But at least I know what it is and can tell you one VERY good reason why you might want to create an application using HTML (4 OR 5)+CSS+JS: not everyone has an iOS device. Or an Android device. A majority has Symbian, of course, but that doesn't change the next point.

      Most everyone with a mobile device can, today, run 'webapps'. That means it makes quite a lot of sense to people who don't want to work with one single platform.

    6. kwhitefoot

      Maybe so ...

      but Postscript is a Turing complete language that simply happens to have a few text processing features included while HTML is a declarative language so what common feature, or lack of feature, did you have in mind? Making Postscript interactive would merely entail providing the appropriate API. Which language did you use and in what sense were the features you so vaguely describe part of the language rather than calls to a UI library?

    7. RegGuy

      HTML is good

      "1) customers want apps that look good and are easy to use"

      So we get all these hybrids to improve the appearance with scant regard to the content. Moving away from the straight jacket of HTML is a bad thing. HTML means that all pages can look the same. So when you go from one website to another you know what you are faced with.

      CSS tries to pander to this 'it must look good even if the content is shite' approach by letting you do things such as hide the links. How many websites have you been on where the links are not obvious? They are no longer blue and underlined and you have to move your mouse over a link and hope it changes appearance to know it is a link.

      Worse yet are those pages that think they can do better than everyone else and actually code javascript into the links so only when you click on them do you know you have clicked on a link.

      HTML provided a standard interface we could all use and understand. Moving away from that to allow any old interface means that for each new website you visit you have to learn the way they want you to use it. That is shite.

      But if your point 1 quoted above is true, isn't this just a sign that the Internet is doomed? Someone (probably Apple) will come up with the 'killer way' to present its content, and then charge the rest of the world to use it. HTML is an open standard that should be used. ANYTHING else is just bollocks.

  4. Arctic fox

    All this seems to assume is that........

    ..............your interaction with content must be cloud and social network based. Quite apart from the practicalities of the customer being hostage to having a live connection _and_ the carriers data plans in order to be able to use content and facilities on his/her mob/pad, it also assumes that everybody wants to be involved with Twitter, Arsebook etc in order to "share" this experience. How about those propagandising for cloud/web based solutions recognise that under certain circumstances lack of locally installed facilities is in fact a _lack_ of freedom for the punter. Plus a very simple and age old aspect of being human - people like feeling they own something real, "solid" if you like, that they have bought; locally installed apps play to this feeling. This whole cloud/web based shtick sounds like a wonderful deal for web designers and the carriers - where do the customers _real_ interests fit into all of this? Why does it, apparently, have to be either or? Why cannot customers choose between locally installed and web based according how _they_ want to organise that aspect of their lives? Particularly without being told that their preferred solution is "inferior" - just because it does not happen to suit certain agendas.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not quite the whole story.

    I'm a web developer, but I've seen too many web developers go off on the wrong track with this discussion. Yes, apps are convenient, but more than that, they're *usable*. Usability studies have shown that with simple tasks like getting the weather or checking a stock, a 'normal user' (not a developer, IT expert, or tech writer) with a phone app is 10x faster than someone trying to use the web. Yes, the mobile web is improving in usability, but at a glacial pace. "Closed" apps allow the experience to be tailored to the device in question. That is more important than "openness," "sharing", or even "features". None of those things matter if people can't get the thing to operate. People want things that simply work. Web developers love adding features, links, buzzwords and whistles to applications, and oddly enough that ends up turning people off. I've seen too many web devs say things like "I know this isn't what the users asked for, or what they need, but they'll love it when they see it". Apps are by nature limited, and they force the developer to think about the limits the user faces as they create the app.

    The web is all about write once, view anywhere, which is great so long as everyone is accessing it through a clunky typewriter in front of a TV with a hockey puck attached. But when people are also using touch-enabled tablets, phones, media boxes, televisions, motions, gestures, and voice to access the network, it requires a bit more work. Slapping "HTML5" on an app isn't going to cut it.

    I do think that the mobile web will gain ground in the future, but only as it becomes more usable, not as it becomes 'richer' or more 'open'.

    1. dontstopnow

      ..but most of it

      Just because websites have hitherto been left in the hands of web developers and not app developers does not mean HTMLx and advanced js tools such as are not suitable for a web-app on a mobile device equipped with a decent browser.

      A not insignificant percentage of apps are useless without a net connection anyway, so what's the difference? The twitter site for mobile would only need a few more tweaks (and it's not the available technology holding them back) for it to be every bit as good as an app.

      The android browser already lays out bookmarks in a simple touch to launch way, and using a few tags in the HTML can turn a web-app into a bloody good imitation of a native app on the iPhone. I for one welcome the wide range of new HTML/CSS/js tools, although they do almost herald the death of the traditional web developer.

    2. Haku

      @AC 12th March 2011 01:59 GMT

      "I've seen too many web devs say things like "I know this isn't what the users asked for, or what they need, but they'll love it when they see it"."

      So very very true, it irks me when I see perfectly good and usable websites get an overhaul or more features added because they think the end user will thank them for it - whereas all that added shit just gets in the way of using the site.

      It's like the web masters feel they have to keep evolving the site(s) they're paid to maintain or they won't get paid anymore, thus we get 'improvements' that most end users don't actually want. eBay is perhaps the biggest culprit, I've seen it evolve massively over the past decade of regularly using it and most of the 'advances' they've done to the site are bitched and moaned about relentlessly by users (me most certainly included) but sadly I can't remember any 'improvement' that's been reversed because the end users don't like it.

      Mobile apps, like you say, have limitations on the amount of stuff they can cram on the screen and features they can impliment, this can be a good thing like the early days of computing when you had severe ram & CPU speed limitations so you have to get really creative - the web has become bloated by too many people becoming lazy, I hope the app creation mentality makes it's way more onto the web because so many sites could do with some simplification to make them more usable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        "It's like the web masters feel they have to keep evolving the site(s) they're paid to maintain or they won't get paid anymore, thus we get 'improvements' that most end users don't actually want."

        I don't update clients' sites because I feel like it, and then bill them for it, and I sure as shit don't work for free.

        Could it be the clients themselves, the business owners, who want the redesigns, just as they want their shop windows or floors redesigned on a regular basis? Could it be that some of you just have a massive problem with web devs FOR NO FUCKING GOOD REASON???????????

        1. Goat Jam
          Paris Hilton


          As chronicled on;

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Search and delivery not the same

    You can link to into app stores using normal links, make promo pages with links on, like pretty much every developer in all the app stores. Searching for apps works fine, you get the dev page and click on the "Get from App Store" icon on the page to open the app store and deliver it.

    App Stores and searching for apps aren't the same thing.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    is why apps are often preferred - no need to wait for web app to start up over dodgy mobile connection. That's why I have a Tube status app rather than a bookmark to TFL.

  8. YumDogfood


    When I pointed a while back that this was the score, I got shot down here. LOL! That that server to app link - all it needs is a basic UDP/TCP over IP and whatever protocol some demented megalomaniac developer can think up over lunch.

    The only reason HTML is still here for apps is developer laziness - its a done deal so we only plug in the component and point it at the same port 80 address.

  9. Matt Asay

    Great points

    Great points, all, but there's a very binary theme running through them: that something is either web or native. That's a false choice. It's very easy to integrate the two (particularly with a rich framework like SproutCore. /infomercial). I think the pendulum swung way too far toward all-native apps but I'm not arguing for discarding native altogether. More like a 90 (HTML5) / 10 (native) split.

  10. David 141

    Web designers fail

    If people stuck to plain HTML and anchored links to bits of text (the way the web was intended to work) and only used images for actual images (rather than widgets) then mobile phones would have no trouble with web pages: re-wrapping the text, shrinking the images etc.

    The problem is the f***ing web designers who seem to think they are graphic artists who have to lay out (mess up) the text with all sorts of buttons and menus and other crap.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I am so, so sorry.

      I'm sorry I didn't build all my clients' sites over the past however many years with your latest phone in mind.

      I'm sorry I didn't tell my clients, "no, you can't have that, that won't work too well in David's phone in ten years time".

      I'm sorry I didn't stick to the most conservative possible model of web development. I'm sorry I didn't realise it will be 1999 forever.

      Of course, if people stuck to phones being plain old phones, and didn't try to turn them into portable computers, we wouldn't be having this discussion, would we? Cuts both ways, doesn't it?

      How the fuck do you people make it through university?

  11. Neoc

    Correct me if I'm wrong...

    ...but isn't the App discussed in this article called a "web browser"?

    I tried a few "apps" on my iPad (I purchased it mostly to read books and comics. The rest of the time I use it to surf the web or look up an address). And the number of so-called "apps" from companies that are nothing more than a short-link to their website infuriates me. Don't call it an App (and give it all the outward appearance of an App) if the only thing it does once I click on an option is send me to a web page.

    Now don't get me wrong - a lot of the Apps I have looked at would be best done as HTML-5 websites... at least then I could access them even when I am using my Linux PC - the "App"-ification brings nothing to the experience.

    And as far as this article goes - if I write the contents for my App in HTML-5, I will not bother putting it up as an App and only access Apple-based customers... I will put it in a subscription-based website and access anyone with a web-browser.

  12. John Tserkezis
    Thumb Down

    Do we REALLY need to have this discussion?


    Content-accessing apps are stupid.

    They can offer a pretty pretty interface compared to something that HTML might not do.

    They (usually) only run on ONE platform (you can get stuffed it it's not yours).

    They offer by far more control than HTML (to the vendor, never the customer)

    They royally piss me off.

    Or you can make something web (html) capable that has support since the dawn of time, and every freaking platform on the face of the earth can use it.

    The day you tell me I can't use *MY* HTML compliant platform to access something on the 'net, I'll piss it off and have nothing more to do with it. Then the smart-arse developers can find their dumb-arse customers elsewhere.

    I've done it before, and I can do it again. When there's nothing left, I'll give it all up and take up knitting.


  13. Anonymous Coward

    Web vs Mobile App

    There is a single very simple reason why Mobile Apps are necessary. Fingers are chubby and mobile screens are small. Using your average web page requires fine grained control, URLs are generally very small and there is a lot of information on an average page. This doesn't work very well on the mobile paradigm. This is the whole reason you have very popular apps (for facebook, etc.) for sites that have never had a need for a local app on the PC. The web paradigm is fantastic for things like facebook, but sucks on a mobile where you spend all your time pinch zooming in and our trying to navigate around. If I look at the width of my index finger compared to the size of my Motorola Droid screen I have a resolution of 5.5x2.5 finger widths. Just think if your mouse pointer on your home PC was 300x500 pixels in size without a sharply defined point. Would you be confident navigating your facebook page any more?

    What you actually need is a HTML equivalent that is as expressive as the mobile app, and quickly and easily allows you to create nice big buttons and the like, along with functionality that works on the mobile form factor. That way you could reduce the need for mobile apps. Previous attempts at this (WAP springs to mind) have been singularly dreadful, but I still think something might come along. I do doubt whether HTML5 will be it though. HTML5 seems to be overcomplex for what it was trying to achieve.

  14. Jeff 11

    Tired of these NAS vs SAN articles

    Matt, the majority of apps exist not because they offer an alternative way to access content that would otherwise be delivered via web, but because they offer capabilities and experiences that either aren't possible or aren't feasible to deliver using HTML. The whole app vs HTML debate came around only when the magazines and newspapers started offering apps: there's no battle here, the two technologies are merely complementary... just as those quaint old things called 'compiled binaries' can be somewhat more useful than your browser.

    "I'm a web developer, but I've seen too many web developers go off on the wrong track with this discussion. Yes, apps are convenient, but more than that, they're *usable*."

    Absolutely. I'll add that usability in mobile devices is king, and what made Apple billions when it started selling the iPhone.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    He starts with a really bad assumption


    That you are connected at ALL frigging times to the Internet wherever you may roam.


    What planet is he living on. I have fully agreed with some of his previous articles by this one is plainly wrong from the start.

    In the scenarion he paints, HTML5 etc is the saviour and the answer to life, the universe and everything.

    Please, Please Mr Assay. Get real.

    While I might use a 'connected method' at home or at work. Pretty well everywhere else I'm disconnected UNLESS I want to get some info myself.

    Yeah I'm paranoid. I don't want to be tracked. I don't want to be bombarded by location sensitive ads. I don't want people to have the chance to hack into my repeat MY DEVICES as I walk down the street.

    I have a 3g iPad. (ok that is a fail here) that does what I want without issue. 90% of the time I am travelling it is powered off for the above reasons. My phone is a dumb old Nokia 6310 on a PAYG deal.

    Sorry you guys who keep trying to send me .JPG files. Not everyone has a desire to be hacked.

    I was two years ago while travelling through JFK. I wasn't careful. I had a torrid time for the next three months trying to sort out my finances and credit history.

    So Mr Assay, take 200 lines.

    Write in your own hand the following.

    I must not assume that everyone who is a techie wants to be connected to the interwebs 24hrs a day until it can be proven to be safe and secure. Furthermore I must not assume that every square inch of this planet has the ability to be connected to said interwebs.

    Fail. For blindingly obvious reasons. Sorry. Better luck next time.

  16. Arctic fox

    @bojennett Re: "It's because HTML sucks, dude"

    "You HTML5 people... you need to get over yourselves. The fact that you can make it work at all as an application framework is truly commendable. You've done the equivalent of bolting a jet engine onto a bicycle bike frame. The fact that the bike doesn't blow up is awesome - but that doesn't mean I want to ride it."

    Do you mind! I laughed so hard at that image that I almost ended up with my breakfast coffee in my lap.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Matt completely ignores the economics

    So Matt's whine is that you can't try out The Economist's app immediately? You have to - SHOCK, HORROR! - PAY for it first?

    Well, life sucks like that sometimes. I'd love everything to be free. Maybe the unicorns could subsidize all my leisure activities - whoops, I mean my life essentials.

    But apps are popular for two reasons - they're more convenient than a web page for SOME services, and developers actually get some money back for their labor. 'You have an honest transaction taking place. What's not to like?

    Being a walled garden "app" didn't save AOL or MSN, so I wouldn't sweat on Apps destroying the web.

  18. Pent

    Ah cmon

    Yeah, would be great if I could plug my app here to advertise it....ah wait... I can...

    It's downloaded to your phone automatically after purchase, no need to launch Market.

    Or stick 'tasker android market' in Google, 5th result.


    1. Paul M 1


      Hey, thanks for the link. Sounds a cool app - shame it didn't work when I pointed my iPhone at it. Maybe I'll try my Linux box when I get home...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    isn't the URLs and sharing. It's ability to impulse buy - app store make it easier to spend your money than the web overall, hence it wins.

  20. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Apps are handy

    Web is just too fiddly on a small screen smartphone. Okay, with modern smartphones you can zoom in and out easily which makes it a million times easier than older phones.

    But having to zoom in or out is still a pain. With a dedicated app this isn't necessary since the layout is properly tailored to the screen.

    Apps tend to use less data as well.

  21. font9a
    Jobs Halo


    >> They are orthogonal to the app discovery experience, because they inherently stifle sharing

    Yes, they stifle sharing your personal information with the advertising leeches that set up web storefronts.

    I don't think anyone is rationally sitting on the fence about an iPad saying, "Well I just don't know if I want a closed iPad with 300,000 apps, or an Open Android app with 100 native tablet apps…."

  22. Wallyb132

    Maybe its me, but...

    I seem to have a different take on this story than those who've posted comments.

    The way i read this story is that, its not the app themselves that are the problem, its the closed model of the app stores, and the requirements and policies put forth by these app stores. The fact that you cant link to content outside your application, you can send links to content to other people, if you have something you want to share with someone, they have to go to the app store, download the app and then find the content in question.

    Its because of how the app store model has taken the open web and shackled it down, put hand cuffs and blinders on it, dictating everything you do and what content or applications you can view or download that developers are feeling that HTML5 is a better way to go.

    Thats just my take on this story.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's a vast number of us

    Who use our phones for making phone calls. We are not stuck in the dark ages: we use text messaging too! OK, some even go so far as to use e-mail, browsing, and, I guess, those "apps" I keep hearing about.

    How many, though, do any of that, when they have a full-size keyboard and monitor in front of them?

    As Chad H said, in the very first post... there never was a competition.

    Pointless article.

    1. Paul M 1


      File this one under "I don't need it so nobody else does either".

  24. Arctic fox

    Part deux of my rant.

    Furthermore, to paraphrase one of Bill Clinton's advisers from the 90s, "its the infrastructure, stupid". That's right, the big pipe in the sky. If we start shoving everything up there so that everybody's shineys are a rather expensive collection of "thin clients" (in the software sense), how the hell are we going to get the bandwidth? The infrastructure investment required in the years ahead by the carriers is already humungous, can you imagine the sums of money involved if it is largely cloud-based? Who's going to pay for that? The poor bloody punter of course through his/her data-plan and/or tax slip. What a wonderful idea! We tell the punter that he/she is a plank if they want locally stored applications and then we charge them an arm and a leg for an alternative that the punter has so far showed no great signs of wanting. As far as I am concerned they can stick it.

  25. Paul Butcher

    Most smartphone users have never installed a single app

    Yes, apps are huge, but most smartphone users have never installed a single app.

    My wife is IT literate enough that she's the person other teachers in her school go to when they have questions about their computers, and she's had an Android smartphone for almost a year. A couple of months ago, just to see what would happen, I suggested that she try to install Angry Birds on her phone.

    I watched her try for 20 minutes straight without success. She had no idea that there was such a thing as the Android Marketplace app - her first instinct was to type "Angry Birds" into Google (not such a stupid thing). But nothing at all that came up was any help whatsoever with installing it.

    This may have changed now that Google have (finally!) web-enabled Android Marketplace. But the point still stands, most smartphone users haven't installed a single app on their device.

  26. Haku


    I like web pages, I also like apps, but which is better?

    There's only one way to find out...


    (cue Steve Jobs and Tim Berners Lee dressed as Tron characters throwing frisbees at each other)

  27. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Why app stores?

    Why app stores? 1) The apps in the app store should actually work on your device. I know to make sure to put "Android" in my google searches, but if i didn't, I'd end up with apps for Windows, OSX, IOS, Ubuntu, Palm, Blackberry, and on and on. 2) Automatic updates. (Or, at least, having a centralized location to tell me when updates are available.) Oh, 3) Ratings and comments. Anybody is going to say the app they themselves wrote is the shit, the reviews will reveal if it's *the* shit or just shit.

    This is not just true on the phone, for Ubuntu I install my apps via the package manager, and not by downloading random packages off the web, for the same reason (and only bypass the package manager if a given package doesn't exist.)

    That said, the whole restrictiveness and such is an Apple thing. I'm using an Android phone for just that reason, there's really no artificial restrictions on what apps are available. That's an IPhone thing, and they are bringing it on themselves now by continuing to buy IPhones then act all surprised that it's restrictive.

    With all that said, my apps are games, cell site location apps, navigators, etc., the kind of things that *MAYBE* "could" run in the browser if javascript is fast enough, but really are not appropriate for it. I don't have like "local news channel app" or whatever, those ARE the kind of things I would use the browser for.

  28. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

    Missing the point ?

    I don't think the author was arguing that there isn't a place for apps, just that for many uses the web will do just as well and has some advantages - but most importantly of all, the current implementation of apps with a controlled store and limited interlinking is bad.

    Take the simple app vs web question. I use the web a lot, and some sites are pretty darn good at handling the interaction required for their intended use. Some are total rubbish but that's the fault of the developer, not the underlying medium (just like a rubbish book is the fault of the author, not a fundamental fault of printed books as a whole). One the other hand, I have a lot of applications on my computer which I use for lots of things.

    Some tasks suit one, some suit the other.

    Where apps on a mobile (at least under the Apple centralised censorship model) fail is that, as the author points out - you are reading his article, he mentions a game, but he can't easily provide a link where you can just click and play it. Were it a desktop machine, he could provide a link to the developers own site - so in a couple of clicks you could have it installed on your machine and be playing it.

    The other example he quotes. You are reading a newspaper online. With a web version they can easily link to anything and everything that may be of interest - and such links can often throw up some interesting stuff you might never have thought to go searching for. Read that same paper via an app and you are much more limited - you can read the paper, and it might be a better experience than a web page, but you lose the dynamic ability to drift off via links to other stuff that might be of interest. Part of that is, again, due to artificial limits imposed by Apple to stop you using an app to get people to other places - heaven forbid that they might read something without paying a 30% Apple tax on it.

  29. Robert Synnott

    Learning from history

    When the iPhone came out, Apple actually made the rather controversial decision not to allow apps at all, but instead to encourage web apps through bundling what was at the time an extremely sophisticated browser for a phone, providing solutions for offline usage (through supporting manifest files), adding webapps to the homescreen, and so on. It didn't work out; at one time up to 20% of people were jailbreaking their phones apparently mostly just to install apps, and within six months Apple rushed out a then rather half-baked SDK.

  30. Ilgaz

    something called mobile web too

    I am reading The Register mostly from my Nokia E71 Opera mobile and even posting comments. Interestingly, most of times it feels even more practical. I speak about mobile site of course.

    If there wasn't a decent, clean site, the register could lock me to an "app".

    Still trying to understand the purpose of reading a web page designed for 1024x768 (at least!) on a device fits to my hand btw. Call me old fashioned.

  31. Le Dao

    What about copyright

    I think you miss a key point, certainly if you're rupert Murdoch or any content provider that generates content which has value but then gets given away by the freedom of the web. Apps become a great business mode, its controlled its manages and respects copyright and earns value as google cannot just index and give it away. The challenge is the apps store model may well turn into the browser. why couldn't google, microsoft or yahoo build out cloud services that any device would share and services pertinent to that device would be available. This isn't far from where google and Microsoft are now and I cannot believe a more Apple model of the world wide web isn't around the corner for anyone who wants the convenience of the app store as opposed to the freedom of the current web.

    Does human behaviour or history give any clues to how this might go, well I think convenience will win for the majority...sadly

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Le Dao

      How does Google indexing your content amount to giving it away? If you choose to put something into a web page and make it freely available, *you* are the one effectively giving it away. Why would you do that if you wanted it be kept secret and seen by nobody? If you *do* want people to see it then search engines are just providing you with free advertising. You can always invest in a paywall if you want to disappear from public view.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    HTML 5?

    It seems the article is arguing against a consistent, usable and easily accessible system -(that is the App Store), For some nebulous 'open source' philosophy.

    Tthe User Friendliness of the App Store is due to the fact they are regimented and controlled - so what?

  33. pj3090

    Some of both...

    I think there will always be a role for native mobile apps, just as I still have plenty of native apps on my laptop. However, there are a lot of mobile apps that are completely worthless. Two examples: the Discover Card app, and the app for my local newspaper. Neither offer anything that can't be accomplished with a decent mobile web site. In fact, the newspaper's mobile web site is actually a good bit better than their app. In both cases, I suspect that the app was driven mostly by a perceived need to "have something in the app store".

    Another point: all of the talk about how HTML is crap and you can make better native apps, etc, is exactly what Microsoft used to say in 1998...

  34. Anonymous Coward

    The web is the web, local power is what user needs

    It's articles like this that made the whole computer experiene horrible. Web apps are lame. Slow, often with clumsy GUIs, needs you to be connected all the time, and send your data to someone you may not like. And you end up to use your powerful PC to run slow interpreted or jitted javascript and parsing spaghetti HTML. The Internet is the *transport*, not the application.

    I prefer by far local apps I can control - often written with the best tools and tehcniques around - that being forced to rely on ugly code glued together by web developers, which are on the bottom scale of software evolution. The day local apps will be over, it will be a very sad day. We all we'll be back to the mainframe era and dumb terminals. Local power will be over and the Internet Big Brother will control we all.

  35. Paul 87

    The author's missed a trick

    You can use a 3D barcode link for an app inside an article and thus share the link in exactly the same way as having to type the URL manually. That's where the app stores still offer shareability, all that's missing is a handy little "about" screen inside the app to bring up said barcode so you can display it on screen and let a friend automatically download the content by scanning it.

    Soon as app developers get that sorted, it's all rainbows and unicorns!

  36. Ant Evans

    Functionality venn

    Apps and web pages can do different things. There is no way to get a web page to show local asbo rates, or react to you shaking your phone, or recognize the user, or stroke the onscreen fish, or whatever the West Coast Beautiful People are doing this week, because a browser has no hook into the GPS subsystem, or the accelerometer, or the camera, or the touch screen.

    The coolest mobile apps are, in other words, security compromises that tend toward the extremelyfunbutspectacularlydangerous end of the scale. A lot of smack users consider hepatitis a worthwhile price for the high, and app users apparently have the same attitude to online privacy. That gives app stores a lot of traction.

    Please, no 'killer' app jokes here. And you may counter that stroking onscreen fish is safe, but that don't make it right.

    There is room on this scale for safebutboring, and it is nicely addressed by the web browser.

  37. Tom 38

    To the point

    The author, and most commentators have missed out that a cheap way of developing an app is to build a web-app, and then bundle that into a 'native' app. The framework required for this is trivial, and only the bundling has to be adjusted for a different device/app store.

    @Ant Evans

    At least with webkit/ios, you can determine GPS location, access the accelerometer, respond to multi-touch events via the browser DOM. This is what is erroneously called 'HTML 5', along with things like web sockets, the communications API and CSS 3.

  38. Daniel von Asmuth

    Apps? Applets? What's the difference?

    For some purposes you will need to install complex application programs, for simple tasks you can run Java applets in your web browser that are quickly downloaded and require no installation. URLs are supported too.

  39. Stupidscript

    Historical Accuracy

    "The web introduced a powerful way to discover new content: the hyperlink."

    Not so ... Vannevar Bush first described the "hyperlink" meme back in 1945, and Ted Nelson coined the term "hyperlink" in the late 1960s. By the time TBL published his first concepts for the "web" in 1989, "hyperlink" was a well-accepted convention. So the corrected sentence would read:

    "The web utilises a powerful way to discover new content: the hyperlink."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      I noticed that...

      Hypercard used hyperlinks and that wasn't the first implementation either. I pretty certain TBL has previous with hypertext implementations.

  40. Anonymous Coward

    read it again

    Should read the article again, it is an amazing pile of steaming drivel.

  41. fct

    compare apples and apples

    Hi Matt,

    good analysis, but I would like to point out the following:

    1. The analogy between AOL vs open web and native vs HTML is not a good one, especially in mobile, where internet connectivity is not as wide spread and always on as with the desktop.

    2. Except for the US (and even there I understand it isnt fantastic), mobile broadband hasnt really lived up to the hype. Besides the reach of the network, it also drains battery life on mobile devices (literally the lifeblood of mobile) this means that to have to be connected to use a app is unpractical, full stop. That is the reason why native apps have won out, because consumers have chosen the most practical option. Consumers should not have to change the way they work to fit vendors.

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