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Video Which do You Prefer: Mobile Web Apps or Mobile Websites? (Video) 90

On December 28, 2015, Larry Seltzer wrote an article for Ars Technica provocatively titled (by Ars editors), The App-ocalypse: Can Web standards make mobile apps obsolete? A link to this article was posted on Slashdot, where it provoked a spirited discussion. In this video conversation, we talked to Larry about mobile aps vs. Web standards. Not surprisingly, he had some interesting things to say.

Robin Miller: I'm Robin Miller for Slashdot. But you knew that. And today we’re on the line with Larry Seltzer.

Larry Seltzer: Hello.

Robin Miller: Last year your story that was titled by the Ars Technica editors, the apocalypse as in Appocalypse: Can web standards make mobile apps obsolete? -- That’s a heck of a question. I'm personally not a big fan of mobile apps but we will get into that in a little bit. Right now, Larry, tell me, will web standards make mobile apps obsolete?

Larry Seltzer: I think it's possible in the very long term. That’s not really what the story is about. The point of the story was that the standards for browsers in this regard are advancing very rapidly.

Robin Miller: Yeah.

Larry Seltzer: There's a lot of work being done on it. And crucially, Google is heavily behind it. Google is putting a lot of work into all the standards to make sure Chrome supports them effectively. And so, right now, you really can’t do many of the things you can do on apps through a browser. But you can do a lot more than you used to, I mean, we’re doing this through a browser. We’re doing this video conferencing through a browser. Their standards being worked on for to enhance offline browsing, there is work being done for things like vibration; you can do a vibration API. There is what amount to a kind of a heavy weight thread called service workers so you can do work either offline or in the background. And the goal of this is so that we can do as much as possible in the browser. And this would be to the benefit I think of both users and developers. So, there are lot of people who have an incentive to make native apps obsolete.

Robin Miller: But, yeah, they have a lot more sold apps, for money, than Android, and they get 30% on them, all the app purchases. So their incentive is the other way.

Larry Seltzer: Google, yeah, you would think that Google has all the same perverse incentives that Apple has, but Google has another incentive which is that, the more traffic that goes on the web, the more ads go through them. The ads for instance that go on iPhones, in iPads, Apple takes 30% of that. In the long term, it's probably better for them, for users to be using the web where they dominate. So, that’s a big part of their incentive. And also I think there's reasons that they put out there, “for the benefit of mankind” type reasons that mean something to them. .

Robin Miller: But - I'm going to do another but. You also mentioned Safari has not been keeping up, and that is kind of becoming like Internet Explorer was back in the bad old days, best viewed with Internet Safari. So it was like proprietary music. And every web developer cursed the fact that he/she has had to write a real web page and then had to write an Internet Explorer specific one. Do we not have that going on a bit too, so we curse Apple?

Larry Seltzer: There's a bit of hyperbole in that as well. A few months ago developer Nolan Lawson wrote an article that Ars reprinted called Safari is the new IE. You need a message that that just as Microsoft let IE lapse after IE6 because they owned the market, Apple has let Safari lapse. And there is a kernel of truth to it. But he wrote that in the same spirit that the headline for this article was written in New York. And so it’s a bit of hyperbole as well. It’s true to the extent that Safari has not kept up with the standards to the extent that other browsers, especially Chrome, have. Even Microsoft is putting more work at least into Edge than Apple seems to be in Safari. Apple has put a lot of work into performance. For a long time, developers and, I guess, users complained about the performance of Safari on iOS, but apparently and I don’t know about this, but from what I read, Safari performs very well right now.

Robin Miller: I’d like to point out for those who may not have noticed, but this article was linked from Slashdot last year and generated a pretty healthy amount of discussion. So, this is an extension of that and I am going to say something now. Browsers, apps, the apps that make me upset are not the ones that take a lot of interactions, they’re the ones that are really browsers, WTSP, Channel 10 in Tampa, has an app that they desperately want me to use. They give away prizes to people who download it. Oh but wait, they are but one of five news stations. I do not see what advantage there is to me in having an app for each of the news stations. I mean, I just want a browser. I want to watch their stories or read them. I don't want to play games or have vibrations. So, why do I need five apps to watch my local TV news? And by the way, I have a pretty good phone in many ways, it's an HTC Desire 816, I love it dearly, but I am out of space on the main thing, I'm going to root it, toget rid of the junk from the factory, but I have to do that for bogus apps? Why is this, what can we do?

Larry Seltzer: This was one of many incentives I add to the story, this is my Galaxy S4 which I don't use anymore because I kept running out of space on it, I made the stupid mistake of buying Galaxies when they first came out, and I was constantly paring back apps and this is especially a problem with all the crapware.

Robin Miller: Yeah.

Larry Seltzer: that comes on phones, but that’s a reason for rooting it, which I’ve never gotten around to.

Robin Miller: Reroot!.

Larry Seltzer: Yeah, but the websites – if you have a website which your TV station would do just fine with, then it doesn’t take up memory. I mean, if there is available room the browser may cache the pages and whatever data there is, but if space is running out then it can delete that.

Robin Miller: Yeah.

Larry Seltzer: So this is another big reason for users to prefer websites. Now I should point out that people like apps because you just press the button then it’s there and you don’t have to go into the browser and type in anything which sucks on a phone.

Robin Miller: I don’t have to do that, I’ve got auto-complete.

Larry Seltzer: But this is another thing that Google has been adding to Chrome, if a website meets certain criteria, you can promote it to the homepage, you can basically make a button for it on the homepage.

Robin Miller: I got that.

Larry Seltzer: And with certain websites, if you use them enough, and they need – Chrome will suggest that you add it to the homepage.

Robin Miller: I do not type in when I want to read The Washington Post, I just click the button.

Larry Seltzer: So you know, but if these things were made as convenient as they are for apps, like you are saying a very large percentage, I don’t know if it’s the majority, but it might be, of apps are really just HTML websites that have been packaged, probably using Cordova, Apache Cordova or commercial products based on it. And one of the things people objected to here and elsewherein this article was that like oh, it’s really just that, but it’s not, those apps are apps. They have to be delivered through the store. If there’s an update, you have to get that through the store and they take up persistent space. This was the way Firefox OS works too. I was going to say work, but and Mozilla objected...

Robin Miller: We can’t figure out Mozilla, they can’t figure it out, so how can we

Larry Seltzer: Yeah, there are lot of good people there and they’re also working heavily on these standards because it really would be to their benefit, but I don’t know if it’s going to be soon enough to save them, but on a website they don’t have to make their Cordova version, they don’t have to distribute it, they don’t have to send bug fixes out. You want to make an update to a website, you make it and all of your users get it instantaneously. You'd think developers would like that sort of thing. Your TV station and my bank have to have a website anyway, so it would be a lot more convenient for them to be able to have this one website and a series of style sheets and some other conditional code to have the same logic and facilities work everywhere.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Which do You Prefer: Mobile Web Apps or Mobile Websites? (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, fuck that. Thank you.

    It's bad enough when you're locked out because shits like the BBC deem your iOS level isn't high enough, just to steam radio our license fee pays for. cunts.

    • by NMBob ( 772954 )
      I can't stand an app for each site, either, and I hate when a site comes up in a 'mobile, reduced usefulness' version on my iPad. I'll have to get a T-shirt that says "Outlier".
  • I don't see why this topic keeps coming up. It's well-known that web apps are always inferior to native apps.

    Somebody like tepples will probably come along and try to argue that web apps are better because "they can run everywhere", but that's just plain wrong.

    You can always get a better user experience using a real native framework like Qt, with separate native apps for desktops/laptops versus mobile devices.

    It's impossible to target all sorts of devices with a single app, like web apps attempt to do. The

    • by Altus ( 1034 )

      It really does depend though, if I'm just reading the news a web page is probably more than sufficient. I'm not sure that I need the CNN app to get a quality reading experience. I guess if I read all the articles every day then maybe the app might be helpful, but I still just want to be able to read a news story on the web rather than downloading an app.

      That said I think some categories are better in an app... shopping seems a bit nicer, things with heave interactions, games certainly... I think i

      • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )
        I'd say for 99% of web sites, just bloody damn well design your web site to be readable. Get rid of all the stupid flashy shit and just provide your content which is seldom more than a couple of paragraphs of text and maybe an image or two. You could even have a "brought to you by blah" line for ads.
      • Unless you have a VERY expensive phone, with 32gb or more of space, you're NOT gonna be putting every fucking app that some asshole company advertises.. I'm on (and I bet a lot of other readers here) a very limited budget, and as much as I'd love to have a $500-$700 latest/greatest Nexus phone, it aint happening anytime soon, and since I don't DO phone contracts, I'm on an MVNO of Sprint and Tmobile (Ting, if you must know), I'm not gonna get a phone thru osmosis, with a first-line carrier.. I buy my phones

    • Wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kludge ( 13653 ) on Thursday January 07, 2016 @04:14PM (#51257733)

      Why should I have to install software on my device just to do the job that an image, an html table, a couple of text fields, and a couple of buttons can do?
      Screw that. I don't need to give some corporation access to my location and personal data just to find me a damn restaurant.

      • by allo ( 1728082 )

        Because an app is faster than a website which loads 5 MB of javascript frameworks and 3 MB of tracking scripts and tries to emulate an native gui with a rather slow render engine of your browser opposed to the native widgets of your operation system.

        Of course, just a plain simple website would do the job, with less crap than many apps are, but that's no choice you get offered.

    • by sirber ( 891722 ) is wayyyy better than the bloated app. loads faster, has access to the chat whitout a second app, etc.
      • by Altus ( 1034 )

        The fact that the Facebook app was written by 100 monkeys sitting at keyboards might have something to do with that.

    • by smelch ( 1988698 )
      You can't possibly believe that. Do you have an application on your computer for every website? Why not? Don't your arguments hold up there as well? Web apps designed for mobile can be just as good as native in almost every situation, sometimes better. My vision isn't so hot so I like to zoom and stuff. Some web apps don't let you do that, but I don't know of any mobile apps that allow that. With the ability to use local storage and manifests for storing web content locally like it's an "app" that updates
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Mod parent up! The rationale makes perfect sense. I can't stand where I visit a website on my phone that I visit with my desktop and on the phone it says "Download our app!" NO! I just want to go to your website. I don't want your app. Privacy issues and storage issues aside... why do I want a specific program to access your information? That seems silly.

        On top of that 99% of mobile "apps" are just WebView wrappers anyhow. I can even make little "icons" on my launcher that take me to a website. The way I se

    • Depends really... is it a web site with static content and an app as a wrapper for mobile?

      Or is it an actual application that someone turned into a webapp? Or a highly interactive site such Google Photos or Google Docs or an online image editor...

      In the former case, I'll take the web site (whether it's properly formatted for mobile or not - I can view standard WXGA-formatted sites on my phone just fine, thanks) any day instead of downloading an app.

      In the latter case, I'll likely prefer the native app.

    • The article doesn't claim that web apps are as good as native. It claims that standards are advancing rapidly and that they *will* be as good as native, at which point the benefits of the web become compelling.
  • by darkain ( 749283 ) on Thursday January 07, 2016 @03:46PM (#51257517) Homepage

    100% prefer mobile web apps over mobile web sites for 1 reason and 1 reason ONLY.

    The got damn mother fucking ads in mobile apps are usually just an annoying banner at the bottom of the app. Ads on mobile sites are full on browser-taking-over malicious bullshit. I can't even count the number of times I open an article and a few seconds later, the browser just redirects to a phishing site that looks like mobile Facebook or a fake security screen. It isn't just an ad spot on a page that does it, it takes over the entire browser session. And they are done in such a way that the browser's back button doesn't go back to the article in question either, it simply reloads the goddamn malicious web page.

    *NOW* if we could get a decent ad blockers on a mobile browser without A) requiring root access, or B) requiring the installation of an entirely different browser, THAN I would be all for mobile sites over mobile apps. But until this condition is met, apps are simply the safer way to go right now.

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      What do you mean by "installing an entirely different browser" ?
      If you have a snapdragon SoC you can try jswarts browser : it is derived from Chromium and work exactly like Google Chrome, it even syncs with your Google account, except it has an adbocker, and it is faster.
      #NoChromo is also a ad-blocked Chromium but it is outdated.
      If you are using Firefox mobile, just install uBlock. You don't need the "AdBlock browser"

      As for more general ad-blocking without root, there are proxy-based blockers like the ABP a

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by barc0001 ( 173002 )

      100% prefer websites over apps because the last bloody thing I need is 200+ apps on my phone or tablet - particularly when many of these apps are poorly written and want access to my photos or location information simply because the app maker was too lazy to exclude those requirements. And I am sure as hell not installing an app to access a site that I might visit once a week or less.

      • Couldn't agree more, if the apps didn't run in the background eating up my battery it might not be so bad. Facebook app I am looking at you....
  • I prefer desktop websites that don't require flash to view.

    TV network websites are the absolute worst for this

  • Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Thursday January 07, 2016 @03:49PM (#51257541) Journal

    Hate apps for the most part because they don't let you finger zoom and other things you can do in browsers.

    But from TFA:

    Historically, the problem with using Web applications on mobile devices is that webpages have not been able to do the things we expect of apps: features like pinch and zoom

    Wuuuut? That is the opposite of what is my observation.

  • Neither (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Thursday January 07, 2016 @03:50PM (#51257565)
    Give me a real website. My screen resolution on my phone is crazy big, and it can zoom with a flick of two fingers if I need to. Reduced functionality/UI mobile sites are grandfathered crap intended for web-enabled Moto Razr phones from pre-smartphone days.
    • ^^ This. We already have web standards. Phones can already adhere to them. Anything else is just trying to 'Apple' it. In which I mean take something standard and then modify some part of it so it no longer is standard then create a false ecosystem around it then raise the price or make cult-like demands of its users.
    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      Pretty much this, there are a few things that touch devices can't properly handle like hovering menus but otherwise the website should be the same.
    • by d0rp ( 888607 )

      If you're talking about "mobile websites" in the context of a separate page/site that mobile devices get redirected to, I'm completely in agreement. Those are garbage.

      But what I think they are talking about here (since I skimmed the article and it mentioned web standards), is what is commonly referred to as "responsive design" ( It's the exact same website / webpage as the desktop "version", but some additional t

      • If you're talking about "mobile websites" in the context of a separate page/site that mobile devices get redirected to, I'm completely in agreement. Those are garbage.


        additional things are added to make it display / function properly on a mobile device. One such example is scaling things on smaller screens that have high resolutions to make them readable (so you don't have to constantly be zooming in and out to use the app.

        This is exactly what I was talking about, and they're garbage. I don't want a screen that is 15 characters wide just because some webmaster decided I'm blind. If they must, provide me with an option to go to the vision-impaired site, but let me use the regular site.

        And CSS does some really wonderful things now where you can display things differently depending on the size of the screen

        Ugh. This is what scrolling is for.

        • by Mouldy ( 1322581 )
          You might use the web on your phone in a way that makes what you describe make sense. But most people don't. Most people use their phones on the go or where they otherwise want quick access to the important information on a website; where scrolling and zooming around a page to pull out the useful information is fiddly and annoying.

          Most people, when they want more information, ie, not the basic mobile view, will use some other device with a larger screen than a phone that is more suited to comfortably vi
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Web apps don't need installing and take up no room, but many mobile browsers make it hard to control permissions. They are ideal for occasional use or where all the data needs to be downloaded anyway, e.g. social media.

      Apps are better when you need frequent access, use of device features like the camera, or where there is a significant performance boost. Email is a good example.

    • I had already modded but I just had to write this comment.
      It's much worse: Not only, as you say, we get horrible, crippled websites on smartphones, they're also progressively becoming the only version of many websites. Also, the crippled, full-of-whitespace UIs of mobile apps are invading "proper" programs on desktop OS (see Windows 10 and many of its applications, including the, according to MS, browser of the future, MS Edge).
      Summing up, we get the worst UIs in websites and applications both on mobile a
  • Neither
    I prefer using my small 27-inch desktop.
    Now, if I could just get Apple to make a 40-inch iMac, I wold be happy.

  • You mean we can talk back to this dude and he'll respond? Or is it just another crappy video lopped like visual spaghetti up on the wall that was once SlashDot?

  • I really hate it when I have two windows up and go to a web site with "mobile" support. god damn do they suck, or at least the ones I have seen. The worst part about these mobile sites is there they don't say if you are looking at a mobile version. and it always sucks.
  • I generally prefer reading news on Safari. If the ads are obnoxious (as in ads following you around as you scroll), then I go into Reader Mode and I just get text (and maybe an image). I find the Boston Globe news app tolerable though it has those ads that follow you around in the menu page. My preferred style of reading is to use web pages, then cut and paste the text into emacs to save a few days of articles. When I have enough of them, I cut and paste them into LibreOffice, save as .docx and email it to
  • by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Thursday January 07, 2016 @04:11PM (#51257707) Homepage Journal

    of mobile apps at all ? The world would be so much of a better place....

    • by fonos ( 847221 )

      I enjoy my mobile apps very much when I'm forced to be offline. I don't see many people around here stating we should get rid of all locally-installed software on our desktops and just use web-based applications. What's the difference?

    • by locoluis ( 69948 )

      Not everything can be done through a web browser. Besides, there are tasks that, while benefitting from a mobile device, have no need to connect to the Internet.

      Some of my favorite mobile apps include:

      - Jota Text Editor. Because I like to write stuff and I'm not happy with the idea of putting all that stuff online.

      - Open Street Map. You have to download a large map once, but then you can access it from anywhere. I still use Google Maps when I need real time information, but waiting for maps to download is a

      • by narcc ( 412956 )

        Web apps work offline now. Not just packaged apps, but hosted apps as well. It's been that way for a while.

  • by james_shoemaker ( 12459 ) on Thursday January 07, 2016 @04:15PM (#51257755)

    you click a deep link into someone's web site on your phone and the page says OOOOO you are coming from a phone and redirects you... to the home page of the mobile site.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Thursday January 07, 2016 @04:31PM (#51257887)
    When an app I installed went off and emailed all my contacts to tell them that I just installed it, and told them that they should install it also --- well, that was the last straw that really turned me off to mobile apps. There is just too much data harvesting going on with web apps.

    From now on, for me it is mobile websites only.

  • by Ionized ( 170001 ) on Thursday January 07, 2016 @04:40PM (#51257949) Journal

    I don't want to download your stupid app. Just make your website not suck on mobile devices. End of story.

    If your app really truly has enough complexity that a mobile site is too slow, and a native app is the only way to get decent performance, your app is probably too complicated. Keep it simple stupid.

    Maybe 1% of apps actually honestly need to be a standalone app.

    • by fonos ( 847221 )

      When offline (such as on an airplane), my mobile apps perform an infinite amount of times better than a mobile site. Just make your websites not suck on offline mobile devices. End of story.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      I don't want to download your stupid app. Just make your website not suck on mobile devices. End of story.

      If your app really truly has enough complexity that a mobile site is too slow, and a native app is the only way to get decent performance, your app is probably too complicated. Keep it simple stupid.

      Maybe 1% of apps actually honestly need to be a standalone app.

      Better yet, why not both? An app AND a website? They're not mutually exclusive, you know.

      Here's the thing - it seems when we want to add "bad" f

  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Thursday January 07, 2016 @05:32PM (#51258297) Homepage Journal

    Seriously. They both suck. So it's like asking which I'd prefer to eat. A bucket of solid shit or a bucket of diarrhea.

    So I avoid "mobile" options like the inferior plague they are.

    • by Pascoea ( 968200 )

      So I avoid "mobile" options like the inferior plague they are.

      So what do you use?

  • Very nice . Thanks to add this news , []
  • W3C has done a fantastic job pushing for cross-browser/platform standards. The App market is still going through iOS-vs-Android war, so it only makes sense to develop an app for projects that need to do a lot of client-side processing, and where the demand will make-up for the extra cost of developing the same app twice. For content delivery and e-commerce, mobile apps aren't even contenders against dynamic web apps, but maybe if we can get to a standard where a single app works equally well on iOS as on An

Any program which runs right is obsolete.