According to Wired Magazine, the Web is dead. I am sure you have read the article by now, if not do yourself a favor and take a peek. Anderson and Wolff make a pretty good case for the passing of the dotcom's most well known offspring. Having been a web-centric developer for just about my entire career, I have constantly struggled with the question of whether a web browser, or more particular, HTML was a good delivery tool for applications. Of course, there are many success stories that rightly need to be highlighted for delivering impressive browser based applications, Salesforce.com for one.
But does the past or present represent the future? Are apps the way to go? Will the browser become related to searching Google, and reading static information? Perhaps. With HTML5, perhaps not.
So where does that leave us in the technology space? Do we hedge our bets on Apps installed on proprietary devices and walled gardens? If you ask me, we need to look at the question a little differently.
What better place to start digging, than at the begining of the web.
The browser became massively popular for its ability to render its content consistently regardless of the operating system. HTML was the universal language. Teenagers could write it. Grandparents could read it, most importantly search engines could search it and allow everyone to find the information it contained. The web was fueled by e-commerce and advertising revenue.
Apps on the hand, need specific devices to read and install. The benefit of such apps is they reach beyond the traditional home of the browser—on a computer—and into the hands and pockets of millions via the rise of mobile devices, with specialized interfaces. What's more, as HTML became more complex and support for things like Flash could not be guaranteed, advertising didn't always pay the bills so to speak. Apps and their pay-to-download model knocked the revenue question out of the park.
After all money is king. Some of the best technology faded into obscurity because they couldn't answer that most basic of questions.
What is the answer then? Browser or App?
The answer is simple: support both, and anything else that may come up.
The how is harder to answer and requires an information-centric view. With the right information, companies should be able to build a platform that supports any number of delivery mechanisms. Often Apps on devices such as an IPad provide numerous better options for working with information that a browser, and at times the reverse is true. Your technology decision should not limit what you can do with the information. It should empower the users with the right tools. A successful platform much embrace this core tenant.
Take for example the most logical of requirements: searching a map for a place to eat.
Performing a search on my laptop or my IPhone is basically the same: I enter my location, or use geo location services now available on most phones and modern browsers. I click search and the map is returned with pins displaying nearby restaurants.
Up until now, the experience is the same. I provide data and am returned data. But what happens if I want to then call my selected restaurant? The app on my IPhone experience is fundamentally better than the browser at this point. This doesn't mean that apps are better, it is just different, and in the case of mobile devices, often much more convenient.
What ties everything together? Information, and access to this information.
Platforms need to be able to leverage meta-data to be aware of where they are running and act accordingly.
Imagine a platform that reacts to the fact it is on an Ipad by instantly providing more controls for navigation, or a browser that takes this meta-data, searches your bookmarks and suggests sites which make working with the information better etc. I challenge you to think how useful massively popular sites such as Facebook or Twitter would be if there was no information contained within them. They could have the best apps, or website, or whatever, but without information and ways to access this information, they are about as useful a phonebook without any phone numbers.
Where does that leave us? I was in London last week attending Cloudforce where Salesforce.com announced Chatter Mobile apps which included the ability to pinch and expand stacks of documents or documents. It seems so logical that I may want to view multiple attachments at once to help me decide which one I want to work with. But the same interface may not make sense throw a browser. The information is the same; how I interact with it is enhanced depending on the device I am currently using.
Anderson and Wolff make the case that the Internet—the underlying transport layer used by the vast majority of web sites and apps—is still king. I couldn't agree more, the internet delivers the information. Modern platforms must offer services to dynamically render this information in a browser, app etc and take advantage of what that end point device offers.
As Tim Berners-Lee said "Whatever the device you use for getting your information out, it should be the same information."