I take this for granted, but I realized many people are not aware of this change: Native applications are endangered species.
By native application, I mean any application intended to be run on the user’s computer that does not use web technologies. And by computer I don’t mean only the good old dektop computer. We have seen a proliferation of devices that can now be considered as computers: laptops of any sizes, smartphones, tablets, navigation systems…
Our relation to these computers has change over the previous decade: we use more than one computer everyday, and they are all connected to the same network named the Internet.
Here are some points that lead me to conclude native applications cannot survive in this environment :
1 Diversification of operating systems
I don’t think I’m mistaken if I say that all these computers will never share the same OS. Today developers of mobile applications have to face the same problem than with the desktop: what OS to support ? For one given platform, focusing the development for a specific OS is simply reducing the number of targeted users. Supporting a large number of operating systems has a real cost and duplicates efforts.
Choosing to build an application that runs with standardized web technologies assure you that anyone accessing the Internet with a recent browser will be able to run your application. Browsers are the new operating systems, and they all almost share the same API.
2 Web technologies gain power
Advanced functionnalities of web application are coming with HTML5 specifications. They are specifications pushed forward by the industry that need them and don’t want to rely on external proprietary solutions (such as Adobe’s Flash).
- Advanced graphics animations are completely possible. And real time 3D could even be used with the upcomming WebGL technology.
- Video and sound are as simple to use as images.
- Browsers also expose new types of information such as geolocalisation.
In the end, web technologies have the potential to be used for everyday tasks. We may wonder if heavier professional software can also be created using web technologies. Personally, I have no doubt that they could.
Of course, we will assume that users who use online applications will use a modern and standard compliant browser. I think the attractiveness of these apps is strong enough to make the user change his browser for something up to date.
3 Many computers implies simpler administration
If you multiply the number of machines the user has to care of, it is logical that configuring them should require less time than today. However easy it may be, installing a software should be considered as too much.
With web based applications, first access require only one single step : launch the application by following its URL. And no need to upgrade in the future: the deployment of a new version of the application is done instantaneously. Corrections can be done on the fly and it is not needed any more to wait for the user base to upgrade by themselves.
Application Stores gained in popularity recently. They may pose a threat if they are the only way the user can install applications. In that case, the distribution is controlled by a single totalitarian company who can decide what can be distributed and what cannot.
The story of Google Voice on iPhone points out this issue and the power of modern web based application: Google’s application wasn’t accepted on the Apple Store, even after negotiation, so Google just came back a few months later with an online mobile version of Voice fully powered by HTML5 technologies. Google does not hesitate to claim that however successful they seam to be, app stores are not the future (consider that they also have their own store with Android Market).
However, App Stores brought the idea of giant directories from which user can choose his applications and discover new ones. This is in what I think they will evolve in the future, proposing links to web applications.
In the end, it may just be sad for fortunate developers who succeeded in making money by selling stupid applications that people would never have bought if they where online.
What was still a supposition for me four years ago is now a certitude: Computers will only be access point to the web, everything we will need to use will be online, be it Data or Applications and it’s coming faster that I would have imagined.