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 washingtonpost.com 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.