You've probably heard the news that Android 3.0 will only be available for tablets. This inspired me for this article series.

Do you know what the first video was that was shown on MTV? That's an easy one. "Video killed the radio star." And what will kill the web app? Not that difficult to guess either: The app!

So why will the company that was supposed to fulfill Netscape's plans to replace Windows with web apps actually kill the web app? The reason why the radio stars disappeared was because many of them were no good dancers and not pretty enough for video. The same applies to web apps: They are just too stiff and ugly compared to apps.

In a way, it is justified to say that Apple killed the web app because the company made apps popular even though they existed before the iPhone. But, I think, the iPhone demonstrates very well why web apps have no future. Even though the iPhone has a great web browser, it was the apps and not its web capabilities that led to its success.

It is not much different with Android. But the reason why I prefer to say that Google killed the web app is because Android will be the first operating system that will bring the apps to the masses on mobile devices. Considering that iPhone sales are stagnating, Blackberry OS and Symbian are losing market shares, while Android phone sales are boosting, it is obvious that Google will soon dominate the market for smartphone operating systems.

And what about Windows Phone? I think, Microsoft will catch up in the long run. The company has enough resources and staying power to compete with Google for the next decade in the smartphone market. We also should not forget that the smartphone market is still in its infancy. The big battles still have to be fought.

Some might wonder what the heck apps for mobile phones have to do with web apps that run on PCs. Well, you don't have to be a star analyst with two PhDs to predict that 2011 will be the year of the tablet. And these gadgets have more in common with PCs than with phones. This is why Google and Microsoft were hesitant to adopt their mobile operating system for tablets. But honestly, I think neither company really had a choice here.

Ballmer likes to mock Google for having two operating systems (Android and Chrome OS), while Google representatives usually shoot back reminding Ballmer that Microsoft also has (at least) two. Google wanted to establish Chrome OS first on netbooks and then on desktops. I don't know if this is what Ballmer meant, but this adoption path is now blocked by the success of Android. Why would anyone want to buy a device that can only run a web browser, if the same kind of machine is available with an operating system that has a web browser plus a few hundred thousand apps?

But why would tablets with Android kill the web app? Let me explain by giving you an example. What is Google's most popular web app? Right, it is still Gmail. And what do Android users do when they check their Gmail email? Yes, they don't use the web browser—they use the Gmail app for Android. If you understand the reason for this, you will understand why web apps have no future.

The point is that apps can be adapted to the kind of hardware they are running on, whereas web apps must not only work on different platforms but also on different form factors. This is not just about the screen size; it is about the way different kinds of devices are used. If you have an Android phone, I recommend checking out the E-mail Notifier from mapeapps, which enhances the Gmail app. You will be surprised by how many different ways you can notify a mobile phone user that new email has arrived. I have counted about 30 different settings. For instance, you can let the LED blink for each of your email accounts with different colors and blink patterns, you can use different vibration patterns, you can schedule notification reminders, you can configure quiet hours, and so on.

Most of these settings only make sense on mobile phones and depend on the hardware capabilities of the device. Even if web browsers were able to vibrate devices, it doesn't make sense for Google to integrate such features in the Gmail web app because nobody needs them on a PC. The fact that different form factors require different kinds of software gives software vendors the chance to specialize in a device type and get the best out of the app for this form factor. And, of course, people will always use the more powerful app that has been optimized for the device instead of the Spartan web app.

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But what about PCs? They have no blinking LEDs and they don't vibrate. Does it make sense to use the Gmail web app on a PC? I will address this topic in my next post.

  1. Kent 12 years ago

    In fact, both mobile app and web app should be living together to bring the end users more feature rich and robotic experience. Yes, the web apps are losing their front end war but by moving the focuses more at the backend web apps still have the life in the long run. Look at those decent apps, none of them can’t perform well without the web app powering at the backend.


  2. mkeadle 12 years ago

    Head of UI experience for Android has said in interviews that Honeycomb is not just for tablets, but for phones as well. Not sure why that’s being misreported so much.

  3. Kent, I agree. Web apps will be around for some time. However, many predict that they will replace desktops apps and this will never happen. As I use the word word web apps, they don’t run in the backend but only on the fronted. For instance, Gmail is not web app, it is a email service.

    mkeadle, thanks. Do you have a source for this info?

  4. mkeadle 12 years ago

    Interview with Matias Duarte. Asked directly if Honeycomb will come to phones. About 11 minutes in.

  5. Trevor 12 years ago

    Michael, I pretty much stopped reading this article when you said that “Microsoft will catch up in the long run” as 1) that statement is totally not correct (MS holds something like 1% of the smart phone market) and 2) it shows just how much of a blatant MS Fanboy you are.

  6. Trevor, I absolutely agree with 2, I am a blatant MS fanboy. As for 1) if you refer to the new sales, Microsoft’s market share is about 2.8%. Of course, the overall market share is much higher because of Windows Mobile.

    If you look at Microsoft’s history you will see that they often start very slowly. The first version of a new product is usually a flop. So I am surprised somehow that Windows Phone sells so well already. The point is that MS has the money to buy the best engineers and why should they be less capable than Google’s? Even though I am a MS fanboy I wouldn’t be unhappy if it doesn’t work out for MS this time. I am quite satisfied with my Android smart phone. How about you? Would you be unhappy if Microsoft is successful?

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