Mobile Browsers

There are two glaring deficiencies (at least!) in the mobile sphere: programmers utilizing web browsers and users demanding decent web browsers. I noticed the issue for the first time this week with a release from the Electronic Freedom Foundation for their new mobile app.

Their app is probably really good. I really like the EFF. The app has an alert system for EFF’s new campaigns. You should probably download it. You should probably donate or at least show some support for the EFF and the work they do. But do they need an app?

Let’s be clear the issue is not EFF or their app. The issue is withe the flood of apps that are being published every year for website after website. I’ve never really cared much for the issue of native vs mobile apps. Each has their supporters and frankly each probably has their own place and strengths–but what about the web page?

Why are we less excited about using webpages on our mobile devices and more excited about putting apps on our devices–apps that do exactly the same things we do on our desktop browsers. Think about how you use these services:

  • Email services like Gmail or Yahoo
  • Social Media sites like Facebook and Twitter
  • RSS readers like Feedly
  • Search engines like Duck Duck Go(which is awesome!) and Google
  • Productivity sites like Google Drive or Evernote

With few exceptions in the above list, we would find it odd if everyone started developing ‘native apps’ for our desktops and laptops and we had to install an app for each one. I shudder to even think about what they would do to my desktop or my program menu! The browser has nearly become the second operating system on those systems and have enabled developers and companies to focus less on the devices being used and more on the content and services being delivered. The same cannot be said about mobile devices.

Recent years have seen an increase in discussions over native apps and mobile apps. But this is not where our energies need to be spent. Our energies need to be spent with better web browsers and web designs that are friendly for mobile devices whether responsive or mobile-first. Tim Berners-Lee has been arguing for just this very idea for the last few years. He has been warning about the rise of the native apps and the restrictions they place both on the spread of knowledge and on the way they separate people instead of making things more open. I would argue that perhaps another danger of the native app is the amount of time spent on worrying about market fragmentation and OS versions which could be much better spent for the good of both companies and consumers. Time that could be spent producing better services that are more easily accessible to everyone–not just the users of the latest versions of Android or IOS.

The web browser is unique in what it enables the user and the developer to do. It presents the developer a more consistent platform for content accessibility and design without worrying as much about operating systems and install components. It allows the users to freely access content and services without worrying about what operating system or software they have. We need to demand better of our browsers as consumers and to think more efficiently as developers.

Additional Notes:

Some articles where Tim Berners-Lee lays out his concerns about native apps:

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