June 13, 2016
The internet is meant to be free, and that means not using it in an evil way. The large technology companies are attempting to curate our experiences to lock us into their platforms. With Google's latest Android N Google are making a direct attack on the open web by locking it up behind Android apps with the introduction of Instant Apps.
Google started as a company solely focused on web based applications that are accessible on every platform. It is traditionally why they have shied away from making many desktop applications and even the Chromebook puts this strategy front and centre. But Android runs counter to this strategy, and it partly our, the consumers fault.
We want smooth seamless experiences, and the web hasn't matured to give that too us on a mobile platform. Native code just runs faster, can be more network resilient, et cetera. There will be a turn around when low end phones become fast enough and ubiquitous always on internet is the same as what it is with desktop computing. For now Google hopes to bridge that with Instant Apps.
There are currently 1.6 million Android apps and 1.5 million iOS apps, but many of these are simply electronic catalogues that don't deserve an app and are just advertising cementing market dominance. These apps would be best served as web wrappers so they can be easily ported to other platforms such as Firefox OS and Windows 10 Mobile. Here is a handy set of criteria which helps you determine if you should create a mobile app.
- Game - go ahead create an app
- Messaging client - go ahead create an app
- You need direct hardware or network access, such as to a lightbulb, camera, or fitness tracker - go ahead create an app
- You need to play music while the device is sleeping - go ahead and create an app
- You need to run as a background service such as a fitness tracker, go ahead create an app
- Content creation of any kind - go ahead create an app
- Catalogue - mobile website
- Exhibit guide - mobile website
- Shopping - mobile website
- Anything else - mobile website
These are the kind of things that deserve apps. But when you can market cheap flights directly to the consumers pocket without ending up in the spam email folder, the incentive to create an app is fairly high while not adding much value for the consumer. Knowing where your customers are so you can market to them more effectively is not a valid reason for having an app over a solid mobile website.
Indeed this Instant App situation will become really bad if it gets integrated into Chrome. It will not only push out marginal operating systems like Firefox OS, Ubuntu Mobile, Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS, but also desktop browsers such as Safari Firefox and Edge. Google the company that was brought up on and embraced the web could just be the company to kill it by extending, and extinguishing the web through Instant Apps and their 80% market share. Sound a bit like Active X, that one time vendor lock-in from Microsoft in the 90s which tried to destroy the open web, that is because it is the same embrace-extend-extinguish tactic.
So what to do about it? For consultants, advise your customers of the benefits of a mobile website and how they can reach the remaining 3%. For web developers, use web geolocation and web notifications (do not abuse or your will face the curse of the popup blocker). For everyone else, write to each app developer on twitter and demand a better mobile web experience over an app.