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Programming The Internet

Can Web Standards Make Mobile Apps Obsolete? (arstechnica.com) 225

nerdyalien writes: There's a litany of problems with apps. There is the platform lock-in and the space the apps take up on the device. Updating apps is a pain that users often ignore, leaving broken or vulnerable versions in use long after they've been allegedly patched. Apps are also a lot of work for developers—it's not easy to write native apps to run on both Android and iOS, never mind considering Windows Phone and BlackBerry. What's the alternative? Well, perhaps the best answer is to go back to the future and do what we do on desktop computers: use the Web and the Web browser.
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Can Web Standards Make Mobile Apps Obsolete?

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  • no (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 28, 2015 @08:45PM (#51198897)

    no

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Wrong.

      The correct response is, "LOL! No!"

      You need to get the "LOL!" in there. The question that was asked is so dumb that it deserves laughter as part of the answer.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Close - but the correct answer is to add "So, now you want me to download the UI and all the code necessary to run the app every time I open it, open slower, and use more bandwidth on our crappy data caps instead of just the data? How is this a benefit? We already use ad blockers to keep from wasting bandwidth."
        • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Monday December 28, 2015 @11:23PM (#51199649) Journal

          Adblockers aren't about bandwidth, they're about keeping people from manipulating us.

          • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

            People manipulate us all the time in the content itself in a manner more insidious than ads. So ad blockers don't keep people from manipulating us either.
            They simply allow us to access the content we actually want without obstruction. If things like overlays or flashing banners didn't exist, ad blockers wouldn't have been so popular.
            Some sites are literally unusable without an ad blocker (ex: overlay with the close button outside the screen), how webmasters think it is a good idea goes beyond me. Not only t

          • Ad blockers are about all of it. Privacy, malware prevention, reclaiming bandwidth, and sometimes just to block ads.

        • Re: no (Score:4, Informative)

          by zaphirplane ( 1457931 ) on Monday December 28, 2015 @11:58PM (#51199785)

          You don't know and understand browser caching or do you have a good understanding of the reasons it would not work effectively ?

          • You don't know and understand browser caching or do you have a good understanding of the reasons it would not work effectively ?

            Ok so now, before I want to use the app in offline mode, I have to go to the webpage first and do something to make sure that it downloads and caches all the code and data that the app will need to run offline which will need some special functionality on the website to do reliably so better hope they support it. Then I need to somehow make sure that the browser keeps this information cached and does not delete it from the cache when I download a different page. Finally I'll then need a special URL which g

            • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

              Ok so now, before I want to use the app in offline mode

              I doubt it. Lets face most of what people do on their mobile devices (at least the type that use 'apps') has almost no use whatsoever in an offline context.

              I might want to compose a document in my word processor on my desktop or laptop maybe even just type up a long complex E-mail, I won't ever be doing that on my tablet or phone.

              Honestly about the only thing I see people do offline on tablets and phones is game, and the vendors are doing everything they can to tie even basic single player puzzle games to

    • Sonny, when netscape navigator was the bomb, and java and javascript were plugins, every one said the same thing then too. This will replace the file system and the applications. Java promised to run on all architectures. But it actually became write once, crash everywhere.

      • in mobile battery life matters. That not only means efficient code, it also means code that plays nice with the OS to properly minimize mobile resources including memory and keeping apps in main memory. The reason apple iphones get away with smaller batteries and smaller memory sizes is that code bloat of java (dalvek).

        • This. This. This.

          This is also why native apps are harder to write than webapps.

        • The reason apple iphones get away with smaller batteries and smaller memory sizes is that code bloat of java (dalvek).

          The smaller battery drain is also true for Windows Phone.

    • Most mobile apps... Actually most apps, are a basic CRUD based system (Create Read Update Delete). Apps are really only really needed for the following.
      1. Interface Performance Matters: This includes games, graphics edits, sound editing, CAD. This is where the UI will be doing a lot of work to provide a rich experience... Most Apps give you data and sit there awaiting input. Web Standards may be implemented well, however sometimes you just need the low level.

      2. Additional User Input/Output. Needing that

  • Again and again (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday December 28, 2015 @08:49PM (#51198927) Homepage Journal

    How many times is this going to be rehashed? Wasn't Java going to accomplish this 15 years ago? The web browser has turned into a VM - a very convoluted, inconsistent, difficult to develop for, hodgepodge mess of a VM. We've got WebGL and Web Audio API and all the HTML5 stuff (local storage, canvas rendering, etc, etc), and still it's a pathetic step-child of a "platform" to develop for compared to pretty much any proper platform. If "write once, run everywhere" is what you want, then sure, go for the lowest common denominator (HTML5 "apps") and you will end up with the end result of the lowest common denominator of performance and platform integration.

    • More than that for me. Even if it works perfectly, I don't want a game I have to download each time I play it. I want my game stored local.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I like the limitations of web browsers. They stop developers being asshats.

      I like apps too. Unlike web apps I can keep using the last good version indefinitely.

      • I like the limitations of web browsers. They stop developers being asshats.

        +1 Funny :-)

      • by doom ( 14564 )

        AmiMoJo wrote:

        I like the limitations of web browsers. They stop developers being asshats. I like apps too. Unlike web apps I can keep using the last good version indefinitely.

        If only we had web developers with some respect for their users, maybe we could find some way to combine the virtues of both.

        Let me file that idea over here with the "sane republicans" project.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      Every application ends up going that way. New modules are written (20,000+ lines) of code are implemented, tested and integrated. Then they are extended, and extended a bit more with workarounds, refactoring, internal restructuring so that the API calls that were originally large algorithm functions on their own are now reimplemented as a series of calls to an internal state machine functions. But then there's a new desirable feature from customers, so everything moves in a new direction, something new come

    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      How many times is this going to be rehashed? Wasn't Java going to accomplish this 15 years ago?

      More like 20. It did accomplish it's primary goal, but then people wanted it to do more. But instead of re-architecting/re-implementing to sanely add those new pieces, it got stapled on. And then it grew, and grew, and grew.

      Javascript is even worse. It was never intended to be an application language. It was meant to add little snippets of functionality into web pages. HTML was supposed to be document mark-up. People wanted something that did more. But instead of examining, architecting, etc. a new sane sys

      • by doom ( 14564 )

        Xyrus wrote:
        Everyone wants web. No one wants to take the time and effort to develop a sane platform. I've been writing software for a long time ...

        And you certainly have the rap down. Question: when do programmers want to throw everything away and re-write it according to their own tastes? Answer: always.

        Question: how do you know when it's really a good idea to throw everything away? Answer: good luck.

  • Besides email and, well, browsing, there's nothing I do on a web browser. I like having local applications.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      You use a web browser for email? Web email clients totally suck!
  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Monday December 28, 2015 @09:00PM (#51198967) Homepage Journal

    Steve Jobs, 2007: You can build amazing Javascript Web 2.0 apps for the iPhone! We didn't make a SDK because you don't need one.

    Steve Jobs, 2008: Okay here's your SDK

  • by Sowelu ( 713889 ) on Monday December 28, 2015 @09:09PM (#51199015)

    I hate upgrading my apps. I'm entirely willing to suffer security vulnerabilities and lack of new features in order to keep the user interface I'm used to and that works for me. In the case of Google Maps and Chat and almost everything else Google for example, new versions offer totally different functionality that often doesn't work for my use case anymore. I strongly suspect that there's a LOT of users like me...yeah, security vulns suck, but the time investment to keep everything up to date and relearn infrequently used applications is massive. I'd never get anything done.

    • I tend to agree with you. I understrnad why maintaining to UXs sucks though. I don't think I can think of a single UX improvements from updates after Windows95 (except when oither people included it in a competing app and the other one just stole it, therefore using their market power to keep the upstart out and reducing the value of innoveative UX, but that's a different rant.

      • by schnell ( 163007 )

        I don't think I can think of a single UX improvements from updates after Windows 95

        Really? How about:

        • Mac OS X "column browser" view in the Finder
        • Android/iOS/Windows tablets with "swipe from below/above" to view key system settings or notifications very easily (or right-side notifications single-click icon on Mac OS X)
        • Windows 8/10 "tiles" or Mac OS X "Launchpad" to put the most frequently used applications front and center for easy access
        • Transparency (all modern OSes) to make background applications/windows partly visible when useful
        • Anti-aliased fonts and vector graphics (all mo
  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Monday December 28, 2015 @09:13PM (#51199033)

    No language choices, no reliable offline support (which should include installing app from an sd card if needed), no ability to downgrade the app or delay updates until problems are fixed. Plus massive performance, memory and functionality hit due to inflexibility and targeting lowest common denominator.

  • I only use apps that will work offline as well as online. If your app is online only then stuff it. I'll just use the mobile web page using jquery instead of buying your lame $1.99 browser wrapper.

  • Sorry but apps through browsers totally suck for usability in comparison to local apps.
    Apart from anything else there's the whole complete dependency on being connected thing, then there's all the massive extra lag because every interaction and UI update are now doing GETS/POSTS to a remote backend, Then there's all the unnecessary extra data usage and extra battery usage as a consequence which are both very real factors for mobiles.
    Browser apps are even a bad idea on desktops. We just "upgraded" to Office3

    • I've been building web based software for 15 years and I've always only picked up on new "fad's" IF they actually improved what I was building. It has worked well for some customers but sadly, these days, everyone wants the latests thing even if it doesn't really fit the model or make the application better... There are so many simple tricks one can use to make a web interface easy to use, cross platform and fast (limiting the actual code the browser has to load and render, avoiding JS, jQuery and the like
  • The benefit that native apps give is consistency. Unless your app goes out of its way to do something weird (and these definitely do exist), it gets consistency for free! The user learns how to use their environment, and this consistency gives them an anchor point for using your app efficiently.

    Web apps are the wild west with every site behaving differently in all but the basics, and then sometimes even the basics don't quite work. Even those who try to mimic a native app's look and feel never seem to get i

    • Web apps are the wild west with every site behaving differently in all but the basics, and then sometimes even the basics don't quite work. Even those who try to mimic a native app's look and feel never seem to get it right, leading to frustration as you then expect things to work in a specific way.

      And if they aren't constantly updated that native look and feel mimicry then fails to keep up with the native platform thus defeating the whole point. For example, I've gone to a number of wordpress sites still using a "native" theme for iOS that hasn't matched the platform since iOS 6.

    • And what native app's look do you try and mimic? Is it the iOS one? Android? Blackberry? Windows? And what version of the OS? If you are going to provide a look and feel for all of them then you are giving up one of the major advantages of building a web app. Of course trying to mimic the look and feel of a native app in a web app is much harder than building the native app in the first place. At least from my experience in building iOS applications.

      Having said that I hate the idea of web apps. Like yo

  • by nateman1352 ( 971364 ) on Monday December 28, 2015 @09:28PM (#51199137)

    I don't know about everyone else, but IMHO the web browser is THE WORST platform to code for in existence. It amazes and depresses me how little has changed about client side web programming since IE4. Instead we have created these huge frameworks to try to hide the suck under an enormous pile of middleware. But still we are doing this fundamentally broken thing of shoehorning a language intended to describe formatted text documents (HTML) to instead describe a GUI for an application. This reminds me of IE4 and its web page dialogs.

    If we truly are serious about having the web be an application platform then a new markup intended to describe cross platform application GUIs and a standard bytecode for the web is needed. Asm.js and enscripten or PNaCl both could be our new standard bytecode, both have pros and cons that I won't rehash. Honestly I'm not a huge fan of either one. But no one is trying to address the fact that HTML's layout system is designed for documents... Not for GUIs. We really need something like XUL or XAML made in to a web standard. I don't care about the politics of what language/tool we choose as long as its a good one thats open for all. I'm sick of the holy wars over tools and languages. That said JavaScript is garbage just like HTML and CSS for actual development and needs to be replaced with a sane language.

    • Maybe how about stop using a web browser to run net apps? They were never designed to a lot of what they are currently doing and it's amazing that they work as well as they do. It depresses me that web designers are still trying to force browsers to show pages exactly the same in every browser on all computers. Even more depressing are the ones that haven't clued in that your screen size isn't the size of your window.

      Using your web browser to run net apps is like using your word processor to edit your ima

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        Too late now ... *everything* uses HTML webpages to manage control systems. Your wifi router will have configuration, diagnostic, security and login windows accessible only through a webpage. The same is happening with corporations. Even software development houses automatically generate HTML pages to indicate the state of all projects.

        For corporate applications, it's absolutely critical that something looks exactly the same on all browsers. That's the only way the training and help manuals can rema

      • by doom ( 14564 )

        CanadianMacFan wrote:

        Using your web browser to run net apps is like using your word processor to edit your images.

        Hey. Emacs and the xpm format are all anyone needs.

    • But no one is trying to address the fact that HTML's layout system is designed for documents... Not for GUIs. We really need something like XUL or XAML made in to a web standard.

      I have daydreamed a bit about using Qt's QML [wikipedia.org] as a way of transferring GUI information/design for websites, rather than HTML documents. If you're not familiar, QML is a Javascript-syntax (superset?) markup for declarative programming of GUIs, and Qt5 and KDE's Plasma 5 use it extensively. It's Javascript origins mean most people are already familiar with it, and could potentially repurpose/extend existing javascript engines for it rather than throwing it all out. I haven't done major projects with it, but I

    • I don't know about everyone else, but IMHO the web browser is THE WORST platform to code for in existence.

      You don't do anything other than websites, do you?

      With web browsers your problems are 2 things, shitty language (javascript) and different browsers. In modern terms, you have fewer browsers than you have OSes, so if you want cross platform support the browser is your path of LEAST resistence. If you support webkit, you immediately get the majority of the internet across all platforms, and you'll get close enough out of the box for anyone who uses firefox. You can ignore firefox users up front because the

      • by doom ( 14564 )
        Yeah, that's pretty much it: the web is the worst platform ever except for all those other platforms.
  • >> Updating apps is a pain that users often ignore,

    Dude enough with the unrealistic strawman.
    On Android, OSX, Windows and Linux at least, you can set updates to happen completely automatically, or at worst you just have to hit OK to authorize the available update its notifying you about. How is that really a pain?

    • It's not a strawman. I have several apps on my phone that haven't updated even though I turn on auto-updates and hit OK because of stupid restrictions on things like maximum app size over wifi (I have unlimited data so it doesn't matter). I also almost got screwed the last time I flew as the app I was using for my ride from the airport to home failed and disappeared from my launcher, and my phone was almost dead. Turns out there was a required update for it to work that was issued while I was *in-flight* an

      • Turns out there was a required update for it to work that was issued while I was *in-flight* and the app store didn't auto-update.

        This is why professionals turn off auto-update; professionals are assumed to be able to run the updates themselves, and software on any platform is subject to regressions, feature removal, and the like with new versions. Try being more professional.

  • O RLY? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Monday December 28, 2015 @10:15PM (#51199359)

    it's not easy to write native apps to run on both Android and iOS, never mind considering Windows Phone and BlackBerry

    apparently you haven't heard of Qt because it supports all of those platforms. [doc.qt.io]

    • Even if the UI part is the same, that still leaves you with the programming language itself (Java with specific Android extensions for Android, Obj C or some others for iOS, etc), the platform-specific libraries (you won't be able to use the exact same code that accesses the GPS in Android on iOS), the database system used, and there will be other fundamental differences as well.

      So even with QT you're still probably best off to just write a separate app for each platform.

    • Poorly, sure. Qt fanboys think its awesome, anyone with experience elsewhere, not so much

  • This is essentially the following question: Does it make sense to move your apps to the cloud?

    The idea is not very good for a desktop with a reliable internet connection, but it becomes ridiculous if you look at it in terms of mobile systems. An internet connection is not guaranteed. If I am out of signal range with no WiFi the last thing I want is to have a device that can't run my applications. That goes double if I'm lost in the woods and need a compass app or I'm looking to tune my guitar, for exam
    • If I am out of signal range with no WiFi the last thing I want is to have a device that can't run my applications. That goes double if I'm lost in the woods and need a compass app or I'm looking to tune my guitar, for example.

      Exactly.

      As it is, too many apps depend on being connected to the network to perform basic functionality. It seems like the folks who design this stuff spend their lives in Cupertino or Mountain View or SF and don't get to places even a short distance from where they live and encounter places with poor connectivity.

      I live about 10 miles from downtown Seattle and there are plenty of places between here and there (including places where people live) with no cellular data coverage (or so spotty to be unusa

  • Believe it or not, cellular service isn't as ubiquitous as people think it is. There are still significant areas of the country without adequate cellular coverage. Are you willing to have your "apps" not work because your browser can't connect to the intertubes?

  • A lot of "native" apps are already just wrappers for Web content. It really is a pain for developers.

    OK, so let's talk about security. If done right, a Web browser could implement the same security scheme (or better) that is now enforced for apps. Desktop browsers have started to do this somewhat, asking you if you want to provide location info, for example. A more comprehensive permissions system could directly port native permissions to Web content.

    Everybody wants you to install their app, for no good

  • Sigh, this gets trotted out every year, usually by a fvcking web developer who couldn't be bothered to learn anything else.
    The reason there are still apps is because they fill a very needed niche. Try write a web app that you can use out in the middle of nowhere without internet access, or worse intermittant or VERY SLOW internet access. Ontop of that the web app has every framework and kludge thrown in to make it look like an app and what you get is a very very frustrated user, who will drop your web of
  • I call it the first law of IT: Toys win.

    When the PC came out it was a toy. Litterally.
    3 decades later its the only computer architecture worth talking about.
    Why? Its open and there is no single entity controlling it.

    Linux was a toy back then. Now it owns everything in computing that isn't controlled by marketing.
    And it secretly owns those rebranded platforms like android, which is Linux in disguise.

    LAMP is a toy. A toy everyone can use. Now it runs 70% of the web.

    WordPress is a toy. A toy everyone can use and tinker with. It runs 25% of the web.

    Technolog wise the web stack is a silly joke. But it just killed a technology dead that was something like 15-20 years ahead and orders of magnitude less shittier: Flash. Why? Proprietary and controlled by Adobe, a company interested in profit, not technology. If Adobe would've FOSSed Flash at the beginning of the touch revolution, it would've stood a chance. Now it's dead.

    What's remaining of the web is technology that was hip 20 years ago - you know, that time when XML was better than anything else, because at least it was a standard. ... Until HTML came along that is.

    The Web is a toy. But it runs everywhere and my grandma can learn to write for it in 10 minutes. Its a slow-as-hell buggy meta-plattform - but its the only one we've got in a time where fragmentation - especially in the mobile space - is rampant.

    My Website from 15 years ago will still render on todays browsers, even on mobile. On screens and platforms we didn't even dream of back then. Try that with a windows or mac app.

    The Web is a toy that is laughed out of the room, especially here on slashdot. It's laughed out of the room like the PC was in the early 80ies.But
    , as a toy, it's open and everyone can tinker with it. That's why it will win.

    So yes, native mobile apps will most probably become a specialty and web-tech-based apps the norm.
    Toys win.

  • Now, like Rip Van Winkle, going to sleep for 25 years, let me know how it worked-out when I wake up!

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