In a widely circulated piece last week entitled The Decline of the Mobile Web, Chris Dixon touches on a fashionable debate that suggests that the mobile web is in, well, decline, at the hands of the new walled gardens known as the app stores.
In other words, that universal cycle of life that has been omnipresent in IT systems — client vs. server, local vs. cloud, native vs. web-based, etc. — is permanently knocked out of kilter.
Over 80% of time spent on mobile devices is spent on native apps (86% in 2014 according to forecasts by Flurry). Web companies value native app users more than mobile web users. Scarce development resources are allocated in priority to improving native apps rather than to fixing clunky mobile web user experiences. The duopolistic control of the app stores and their self-reinforcing spiral for the lucky few apps that are highly ranked will slow long-term innovation.
The arguments for the mobile web’s inexorable decline are well thought-through and convincing. Smart people agree. Some are even shifting their hopes for innovation to the blockchain (which I won’t pretend to claim I fully grasp).
I cannot disagree with the analysis, nor can I muster the intellectual horsepower to craft compelling objections to the conclusion that innovation might suffer. But something is gnawing at me that prevents me from accepting the decline of the mobile web as a foregone conclusion just yet. I may well be naively in denial, and time will prove me wrong one day.
That gnawing feeling stems from my respect for that transcendental concept of duality. Herman Hesse couldn’t have portrayed his literary character Goldmund without completing him with Narcissus (there’s no Yin without Yang, in other words).
Open standards like HTML5 keep me enthusiastic, especially as services that improve discoverability of HTML5 ‘apps’ continue to emerge.
So I’m not ready to call curtains on the mobile web just yet.
There are several insightful retorts to this debate in the blogosphere. To paraphrase one in particular:
[Wouldn’t it be really cool if there was some sort of generic app to which you could send a set of instructions to present information the way you want… some sort of…. “navigator” that allows one to “peruse” content… yes, and then design a generic language for it, to mark up the content… some sort of “markup language”…]