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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151 comments

  1. <html><body bgcolor="#FFFFFF"><div>Niels. You are missing out dude :)<br><br><span class="Apple-style-span" style="-webkit-composition-fill-color: rgba(175, 192, 227, 0.231373); -webkit-composition-frame-color: rgba(77, 128, 180, 0.231373); ">Sent from my iPhone</span></div><div><br></div></body></html>

  2. Brent, you can claim that browsers have some of those technologies I mentioned, but they are in their infancy. Browsers are building frameworks to "check all the boxes" but have failed to create a mature development environment that allows developers to build rich apps.I want real threading within a single browser window (session) on the client side. I want apps that access the GPU.I want to copy/paste photos and video from my desktop or elsewhere on the web, and paste it into an app. Your DMCA claim here is completely off topic.You seem to be a web fanboy. Because you aren’t able to admit that web apps can’t do as much as the iPhone OS that’s only 3 years old.

  3. Jeff, I never said Apple has to win or be the dominant platform. But i’m suggestion and hoping that something better does come along. This might be because of innovation in the browser, or because of something else entirely. I have no idea what it will look like. But Apple has shown that there can be something better.And there’s really no need to be a total jackass. Lets keep the discussion professional and interesting.

  4. why should browser platforms innovate for themselves?! i would say that webstandards should innovate faster… your post sounds like "develop web apps for one certain browser, not for the web", which seems to be a very very screwed up state of mind…

  5. <html><body style="word-wrap: break-word; -webkit-nbsp-mode: space; -webkit-line-break: after-white-space; ">Jonas, I don’t care *who* innovates. I’m just saying that the web as a whole needs to innovate, or it will lose its edge<br><div><div></div></div></body></html>

  6. I hope all that reads this before Sachin deletes it, that he deletes posts that challenge him and oppose him. You are evil dude, and and you disgust me.

  7. <html><body style="word-wrap: break-word; -webkit-nbsp-mode: space; -webkit-line-break: after-white-space; ">Jeff, please read all the comments above. There are plenty that oppose me and I left them on the site, welcome them, and truly enjoy the discussion.<div><br></div><div>But when you act like a 6 year old and say "you suck", attacking me personally, then I will delete the comment. It’s my blog.</div><div><br></div><div>Why don’t you just unsubscribe and leave this thread alone? Maybe you’re a web developer and my post is scaring you a little.</div><div><br></div><div>So… No, you can’t say that I suck. and yes, I can sensor comments that are on *my* blog.</div><div><br></div><div>Please leave.<br><div><div></div></div></div></body></html>

  8. # 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.Interesting post except for those 2 points

  9. I started writing another comment, but I have had to change it so many times, because this post is just so broad in it’s buzzwordiness, I can’t keep a train of thought going. I could write a paragraph about any single point in this post.Just level with me… did someone bet you that you couldn’t write a blog post with a certain list of words in it? And, did you win the bet?

  10. surely this is just a post to bring up several ‘less than great’ points about the web. good. maybe they’ll be fixed in the years to come.for now browsers should get all the basics right first – a very solid base to decide where to go next.chillax!

  11. I think a lot of this misunderstanding about the web comes from application programmers who have been spoiled by compilers and interpreters who do most of the legwork of making an application work on any given platform. When one writes an app, just run it through a compiler on each system, and as long as you aren’t hitting some deep-magic system calls, it should cross-compile pretty easy, especially nowadays with standardized libraries and such.However, with web design, humans are the compilers. They have to make every nuanced adjustment and they have to have a full understanding of the inner-workings of every, "browser platform," as it is said.Though I agree that the web is behind in terms of application design, it forms a very good lowest common denominator. It also provides a standardized means of data exchange, and most importantly, because it touches so many people and its intricacies are laid bare open for more individuals, it helps bring these arguments to the forefront. The more people thinking about any given issue, the better the resolution will be for the masses.Finally, this post only exists because standards have finally won out. Only once something has become standardized and the dust has settled from the previous battles are we able to see the pros and cons of our collective wisdom and make subsequent adjustments accordingly. Because the feedback loops in technology are so short though, it can be frustrating for those who have just finished fighting the previous battles to see others tooting their war horns for the future battle to come. Sometimes I wish there was a mandatory 2 or 3 year resting period where we all stop griping about a problem and relax before continuing. But such is progress.

  12. The reason the web is in such a sad state right now is BECAUSE of browser makers of the past doing whatever they wanted and ignoring standards. IE6 has single handedly stagnated the web for a decade.Standards can’t move forward when there are still widely used browsers that don’t even support the last 2 rounds of standards properly.Also there are tremendous security issues with haphazardly giving browsers access to the file system, persistent storage and any sort of system access. Again, IE6 – a security nightmare because of it’s integration with the OS.It is exactly your kind of thinking that cursed the web with the IE plague. We went down that road and all learned our lessons. Even Microsoft has started to come around and recognize the importance of standards.Without standards the web wouldn’t even be here today. We’d each be in our own little walled Intranets like AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy.I don’t disagree that the web is a terrible application platform – it is indeed awful and the technology powering the most impressive apps are all ugly hacks and band-aids.Instead of more rogue browsers re-inventing the Internet, we need better standards and more steadfast browser makers to implement them in a timely fashion. Without standards, the net will simply move backwards – endlessly segment, and die.

  13. Once browsers start "innovating", they’re going to patent every little rendering quirk and custom tag they come up with. It would be illegal for any two browsers to render markup the exact same way.The people who make browsers should really only be innovating on stuff like performance, stability, security, bookmarks and the like.The days of "To view this site, you must use Internet Explorer 7.0 at 1024×768 resolution and millions of colors" have ended.

  14. I’m brazilian and bad english, but my opinion, i agree of the general proposal of this post, its to question the Web for apps, but disagree about dead of web, webapp yes, but web is a voyager for the content. In short we needed a idea, no XP. My imagination provide the rest: read a good book is a example. But… the XP with webapp need a new vision. The web it was not built for webapps. This post is a fanboy of Apple, but Apple MAKE the inovation, no Windows, no Google, no Times, no the old media (only promisses).Is funny all opinions defending a bad experience: the acctually web, but is compreensive, they dont know something better or dont have imagination (maybe the villian is the web and your pour experience and limitation).My stomach revolutionized whit this post, but the imagination need this: to think different things for ours day by day and not to swallow the bad easely.

  15. you know, implementing proper, new standards for HTML and CSS and ensuring that everyone complies with them is more important. Maybe even add a bit more flexibility and power to CSS.

  16. As long as Apple doesn’t support porn, I wouldn’t say they are complete. and oh, I don’t think much people will support them too. End of story.

  17. I don’t agree at all. Now that the web is evolving more and more towards "open" standards and the use of webservice-API’s is increasing, you want to build a wall around them ?Instead of building apps for every task and every platform, build a decent web app, that works on all these platforms at once. This is what the web was intended to.And, "you love opening PDF-docs" cause they are richer in typography etc.. ? 1. with css(3) you can do all of this too and 2. you don’t have to depend on having the plugin installed and 3. you are the first person I know of that says this.. everyone thinks it is a hassle.. text and images can and should be displayed right in your browser.Tom.

  18. @Ben Alabaster. The idea of separating the rendering engine from the application is ok except we would all simply target the best rendering engine. ie.right now my choice would be safari…and up till about now havent broswers simply beed just a rendering engine?@Sachin. I really dont agree with the idea that if someone doesnt like a certain browser they should go get a different one. Most people out there would find it hard to describe what a browser was, let alone know there were others. I know plenty of ineligent people who use the web a reasonable amount who dont know what a browser is. Admittedly all this peeps are windows users with whatever version of IE that came with their computer. If they update their operating system and get a better browser, they see the improvement/diffrence but dont realise they could have updated the browser separately. we in the web scene know their are many different web experiences (on various platforms/browsers etc) but most people dont, they expect what they experience to be what everyone else does.Yes standards as we see them impede innovation, but id rather develop with them than without them.So how about seeing this from another angle. I’m gonna point the stick at the standards peeps. I have wondered often for the past decade, after ditching table layouts, why has no decent standard been developed for centering vertically or floating centraly. Many simple design/layout techniques are deemed impossible or achieved through far from efficient means.Maybe instead of the browsers deciding standards along with w3c it should be a wiki and WE should decide. We could wiki the css syntax needed, the graphical representation of how it should then appear. Vote the good ideas up the bad ones down……. and hope like hell the browsers implimented them.

  19. > Users locked into IE6 can use it for the apps that need it, and use> another browser for innovative apps. That’s not too much to ask.As a matter of fact, it is. If you think it’s reasonable to ask users to use multiple browsers on a regular basis, you’re incredibly out of touch with actual users (as opposed to technology fetishists like yourself and probably most people you talk to on a regular basis).

  20. Sachin, you didn’t expect us to take you seriously, did you?If you did, than I honestly don’t remember anyone as ignorant about the web as you in a long time. You talk of 3-year-old iPhone OS that doesn’t let me print or access files that I own, for goodness’ sake, as a mature platform? Better than the web? What have you been smoking?

  21. Writing 2010 about the web and not talking about open source software and standards is sort of totally screwing up – regardless what kind of software you produce or use.

  22. I read a comment last year on ajaxian: Browsers should supply bookmarks, history, and tabs. Page author brings rendering and layout management using JavaScript alongside their content. The web content ought to exist inside canvas or SVG. The author can chose whether *or not* to use HTML, DOM, CSS rendered inside the canvas or SVG. No more flash or silverlight would be necessary and everything is just in its proper order.

  23. Considering it’s free, I’m happy it’s even working this well… You’d be tolerant when you realize that that Benders-Lee chose to make it free when he had an option to make a packet out of it… Apple give you pleasure? Yeah, The Hilton gives you pleasure too… List the benefits of the internet to Africa and see if Apple and the ‘brands’ have anything to do with it…All you care about is ‘products’. Products are people who run a racket and ‘help’ people after they retire. Keep moaning…

  24. I hate web apps too. I hate writing them, and I hate using them. I personally can’t imagine how latency-numb a person would have to be to use web based gmail except as a backup for when you’re away from your own computer. It’s just so painful (click, wait, click, wait… wonder where all the features are…) compared to even a lame native client (or, hell, a Java Swing based client). And web based gmail is a pretty good web app. It only goes down from there. It’s so sad to hear how much everyone gushes over little AJAX band-aids like jQuery, which is definitely amazing, but it’s an amazing band aid on a platform that fundamentally isn’t up to what people are trying to do with it.

  25. There are some really useful tips here, thank you. I frequently use the search facility to find people who are talking about the same topics as me. Adding URLs to business cards is an interesting idea.

  26. So far, this post is one of my bests! Writing a very unique and interesting post like this deserves a flood of constructive comments (which is really obvious). Today, finding a high quality article is really hard. I’d like also to thank my friend for giving me the url of your blog. Hope you appreciate my short comment though. I am looking forward to see your upcoming post. Nice job!

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