The web sucks. Browsers need to innovate

The web as an application platform stinks, and I think this is even more apparent now as we see incredible iPad apps being released. Why are iPad apps, in their initial versions, so much better than websites that have existed for years?

When I started writing this post last week, it was going to declare the end of the web. I’m not quite ready to call it dead, but it’s on thin ice.

The web is great as a generic platform for consuming flat, static content, but isn’t good for anything rich

  • AJAX is just a band-aid to make a platform that is based around page refreshes feel more interactive.
  • Java and Flash are yet more band-aids to make the web feel fluid. But remember that feeling you get when you hit a page with Java on it? Gross.
  • Web applications don’t have threading, GPU acceleration, drag and drop, copy and paste of rich media, true offline access, or persistence. Are you kidding me? Gmail only recently added inline images (and it’s super buggy).
  • Web based email broke the mailto, one of the most basic commands for creating an email message.
  • Developer tools for native apps are better than web tools. XCode and Interface Builder are phenomenal. So is Visual Studio on the PC. On the web, people still use plain text editors.

People are using apps more because the experience is much better. We will see a decline in web traffic and search in the coming years

  • People use web search today because they don’t know how else to find high quality information. The web is a mess of content with no organization. On an iPhone, I launch the appropriate app.
  • When talking about iAds on April 12, Steve Jobs said, “Search is not where it’s at, people are not searching on a mobile device like they do on the desktop.” I actually think the issue here isn’t desktop vs mobile, but web vs apps.
  • Full six years ago I blogged about people’s over dependence on search. I felt Google’s search results weren’t as good as visiting the specific site with the information needed. Instead of blaming Google, I should have blamed the web as a whole.
  • Many iPad apps are simply a different view on data that is already available on a website. And every single time, the iPad app beats the web experience that has been around for years. NYTimes, Netflix, Zillow, and others.
  • To single one out, try the ABC app on iPad. Much credit to ABC, but I doubt they have the best iPad developers out there. Yet their version one application is awesome, and a much better experience than their website.
  • Thanks to better developer tools, a richer SDK, and simply higher quality standards, developers are making apps that consumers are using to interact with data in a richer way then ever before.

Browsers aren’t innovating. They are just trying to comply with standards and fix bugs and performance

  • Right now browser updates fix bugs and add application features, but can’t enhance the functionality of the web. This is only done by standards boards.
  • Browsers are forced to implement every “standard” that is agreed on, even if it’s not the best decision for the platform.
  • Browsers don’t add functionality outside of standards because developers wouldn’t utilize them. This means they can’t innovate.
  • Browsers don’t even comply with standards well. Developing for the web is a disaster because every browser has its own quirks and issues. They can’t even do one thing right.

The only way the web can survive is to reinvent itself, to refocus. Each browser should focus on innovation, not parity

  • Why do all browsers have to support the same standards? This only limits their innovation, and limits web developers.
  • Browsers should innovate as fast as possible, adding additional functionality without concern about the other browsers out there.
  • Web developers can choose which platform they want to develop for. Does your app run best using Chrome’s non standard SDK? Go for it.
  • Each browser can choose to mimic features that have been added by other browsers if they find they are losing developers or users.
  • Ultimately this will result in:
    1. Greater innovation in browsers and the web platform as a whole.
    2. Each browser will become its own platform, with varying application support.
    3. Users will choose browsers that run the applications they care about. Browsers with poor application support will die.
    4. Developers will no longer worry about running on every browser. The goal will be to create the best experience on one browser.

Developing for the web has always been a tradeoff: gaining a larger user base but sacrificing quality. The web has been improving steadily, but at a much slower pace than it should.

When GMail launched in 2004, it took one step forward and 10 steps backwards from the mail application I was using. Even today, the major features GMail is releasing are simply trying to match the features I’ve had on the desktop for years.

I think this is the tipping point for the web. The modern web had over 10 years to reach parity with desktop applications, and it couldn’t even hit that. Now it faces extinction as innovation in native applications accelerates.

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