Posey's Tips & Tricks

Are Apps Really the Death of the Web?

While apps have grown in popularity, especially for mobile users, don't expect to see the end of the Web as we know it any time soon.

For quite some time now, I have been hearing people refer to apps and to app stores as the death of the Web. The idea behind this philosophy is that the proliferation of mobile apps will render the Web obsolete. This idea is one of those things that I have heard repeated time and time again, and yet I just don't buy it.

Before I tell you why I don't see the Web being replaced by apps, I want to spend a moment talking about why some have predicted Web sites being replaced by apps. The reasoning largely has to do with competing standards.

Obviously, competing standards are nothing new. There have been countless examples over the years. One of the best known examples was the battle between VHS and Beta way back when the VCR first began to gain popularity. There are also standards (or at least techniques) for providing a rich online experience. On one hand, there are apps. Apps are typically Web enabled and can be made to do almost anything. On the other hand, there are browser standards such as HTML 5. These types of standards make it possible to interact with Web applications using a standard browser. I'm not saying that one technique is better than the other, only that they offer two different ways of accomplishing a task. After all, you have probably seen some apps that look and behave almost identically to the creator's Web site.

As previously noted, the concept of competing standards has existed for years. What makes apps a little bit more interesting though, is some of the reasons why they first gained popularity. One of these reasons is fairly obvious. Mobile device manufacturers went crazy with app development early on in an effort to lure customers into buying their devices.

Another reason why apps gained so much traction was because apps were used to make up for browser shortcomings. Not all that long ago, mobile browsers left a lot to be desired. These browsers (regardless of vendor) often had trouble rendering complex Web pages and did not support a lot of the common plug-ins. That being the case, apps began to be used as browser alternatives. For example, YouTube apps were developed for use on mobile devices whose browsers were not natively capable of playing YouTube videos. Mobile browsers have greatly improved over the last few years, but even today it is common for Web developers to create mobile versions of the sites that they build in order to improve the odds of sites being rendered correctly on mobile browsers.

Of course it goes without saying that apps can have purposes other than acting as a workaround for a browser that has limited capabilities. Apps can do things that browsers were never intended to do such as allowing users to play graphically intensive games like Need for Speed Undercover.

So hopefully you can see why so many people think that apps are going to lead to the demise of the Web. Simply put, apps can do things that browsers can't. As I said in the beginning though, I seriously doubt that mobile apps will kill off the Web. There are two main reasons for this.

First, mobile apps don't always work the way that they are supposed to. For example, I travel a lot so I have several airline apps installed on my phone. One particular airline's mobile app shows that I currently have about 135,000 frequent flyer miles and that I have two upcoming trips. The problem is that the trips that are displayed as upcoming are actually from last year. The other problem is that a quick check of the airline's Web site reveals that I really have 280,000 frequent flyer miles. The bottom line is that the app is buggy and unreliable. If I want accurate information, I have to use the airline's Web site.

OK, I will admit that this is only one example and that many of the available apps work fine. I will also concede that it would be just as easy for a Web page to contain buggy code.  Even so, there is no shortage of poorly written apps.

The much bigger reason why I don't think that mobile apps will replace the Web any time soon is that doing so would make gathering information very impractical. This morning, for example, I spent a couple of hours researching an article that I am about to write. In doing so, I probably visited a couple dozen different Web sites in order to gather the information that I needed. With that in mind, imagine what it would be like if you couldn't just click to open a Web page at will. Imagine if instead, you had to install an app every time you wanted to use a new site. Apps are fine as an alternative to pages that you visit on a regular basis, but the Web still has its place, especially for those who do a lot of online research or who visit a wide variety of sites.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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