What does it look like for the web to lose? – Chris Coyier

Say, somehow, the web is dealt some massive blow, and native apps have all the momentum. What does it look like for the web to lose? As in, for native apps to somehow become the default choice for organizations building digital products.

  • Us designers and developers would either have to re-specialize on one particular platform or spread ourselves thin, getting mediocre at many.
  • There would be many good apps in just one of the walled gardens, leaving users feeling cheated that they have to choose and miss out no matter what they choose.
  • We would all live under the rule of these closed, privately-held systems. If they don’t like you or your app, you’re gone. That’s how they work now, but with nowhere else to go, gone is gone.
  • URLs are of the web, not native apps. URLs are what makes search engines a thing. Farewell to global, helpful search.
  • Did you (do you) learn and debug from being able to inspect the source code of the very thing you are looking at? Not anymore.
  • Isn’t it nice how really old websites are still perfectly available? The web does a wonderful job of backward compatibility. In a world of all native apps, one platform update can prevent any non-conforming app from running at all.
  • Not that websites are notoriously amazing at performance but have you weighed your average app download lately? 50MB is on the small end. So much for the web helping bring digital connectivity to developing nations.
  • If you sell the product, prepare to give up a sizeable chunk of every sale. 
  • Does it bring you comfort that the decision-making processes that guide the web are good-slow, because it prevents dangerous under-thought ideas? That’s how the open, collaborative web works, not private industry.
  • Do you like the idea of being able to exert control over websites with things like user stylesheets and web extensions? That’s not a thing on native apps.
  • Plus like, how do you even look up how to build native apps without websites amiright

This is a good list of items to keep an eye on and it is true that without the web, the native community will lose out on a lot. Now this doesn’t mean everything can and should be a web app. It also does not mean that native apps are web apps because they use URIs to “fetch data” / run a service.

The web has 2 roles to play imho: 1) fastest way to prototype a service and test it with the public and 2) fastest way to scale a service. Where it falters (at least on iOS and quickly on Android) is have a set of platform approved APIs that allows one to build a polished experience.

In product management, there is often discussion around mVP – Minimum Viable Product and mDP (my personal preference) – Minimum Delightful Product. The web is a wonderful platform to test MVP for sure. I worry that the web is currently unsuited for the mDP depending on your bar.

However, where currently the web fails well short, especially on mobile (and we can debate the why in a future discussion) is the MDP – the Maximum Delightful Product. This is where discovery (app stores), fluidity of the UX, haptics, speed, offline capabilities, notifications all come together and deliver a well, maximum delightful experience. The web fails on the mobile here for a few reasons.

I hope the web can get better there! On desktop, esp on Apple’s M-series of devices, the web (esp on Chrome) is a delight. It’s so darn powerful and some amazing experiences are created there – Figma being a wonderful example. I want web on mobile to get there and I am rooting for it.