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Stop talking about the web as the future

by Stephan Bönnemann

Do you remember, back in the day, when the big players in the Music industry had an oligopoly to distribute and sell music? Everything was in their control, from the artist to the sales process, so they could make billions by selling other people’s music. We know this changed radically and the whole industry underwent a revolution which certainly wasn't peaceful. Could you imagine music labels supporting streaming services without severe pressure and an existence-threatening digital revolution?

Steve Jobs presenting the AppStore

Now compare the current situation of distributing and selling mobile apps to the one I just described. Considering the AppStore is the only marketplace where you can publish apps and have commercial success with, isn't it frightening that Apple has full control over the sales process, allowing certain business models and forbidding others?

Isn't it frightening that Apple not only can, but will remove apps they don't like, controlling whether apps will skyrocket in "Top Grossing" or fall into oblivion. It feels like a déjà vu to me.

Steve Jobs presenting the AppStore

Ironically Apple stumbled into this powerful position, as they initially planned on having all their apps web based. Over 5 years ago, back in 2008, the web wasn’t ready yet, so Apple had to make the native move and release the SDK. Everyone knows the incredible success story that followed. Fast forward again, the web caught up, but Apple isn’t interested anymore. The very nature of the web, being an open platform for everyone to publish and share whatever they like, is at odds with Apple’s control over the mobile app profit center, the AppStore. They’re holding the most powerful position in the mobile field and they won’t give it up voluntarily.

Have you noticed that APIs for web developers in mobile Safari only improve for content editing? There is a new pagination API, new fancy box models, so that we can feed rich, web based content into our native apps, but look at it from the other side. Are there any APIs or tools to make web applications (rather than just content) look and feel better? No, they not only stopped improving existing technology, but they’re breaking what we’ve already got, especially with iOS7. I’m not saying this is on purpose, it’s disgruntling enough that they simply don’t care.

You might think I’m just another relentless Apple hater.

At this point of my article you might think I’m just another relentless Apple hater, but I’m sorry to disappoint you – quite the opposite. I’m grateful for what they did in the past, well, they started the whole thing, right? They initially came up with many concepts we now take for granted, they eased the publishing process for many, many independent developers. It’s not like Apple needs to fail for the web to succeed, but we have to force them to concentrate on their own business again. Of course they have outstanding hardware, but do you think it’s just a coincidence that Apple’s own (non-OS) software like iLife, iWork and their own iOS apps (not even talking about the pro software) are in a devastating state? Would you develop and maintain your own costly products, even though you could just lean back and earn billions by selling other people’s software? I remember Steve Jobs saying an often quoted sentence, when asked why he wants to see Android go away.

We did not enter the search business. [Google] entered the phone business.

Steve Jobs

Following his implicit message I’m simply suggesting that Apple should stay out of the censorship business.

To change this – learning from history – the big players won’t be of help here, they will fight us. Sad enough talking to them is senseless, reporting bugs is ignored, complaining is laughed at. So, we have to change (their) reality, just as file sharing changed the music industry’s reality. I’m not calling for mass pirating apps though, I’m calling for tools and conventions that make web apps not just the cheap guy’s resort, but the top notch mobile app development choice. User Interface pioneering Apps like Tweetbot, Fantastical and Mailbox have to be written with JavaScript, not just because it is technically possible, but because it’s the most straightforward, sustainable and fun way to do it.

I want the team that’s responsible for curating featured apps on the AppStore to have sleepless nights, as they can’t find cool native apps anymore. For the web to win we have to enter this seemingly hopeless fight, but there is no way we can continue to watch them privatizing the mobile revolution any longer.

Seems unrealistic? It certainly was unrealistic to think that anything could be done to the big music labels in the 90s. If we don’t even dare to try, wouldn’t it be more honest to stop talking about the web as the future? We could simply accept our role as the content supplier, because looking at what we currently have – a pseudo open source framework like Sencha Touch, or a butt ugly jQuery mobile – are you really surprised that native developers laugh at web evangelists? The current attitude is to give up on mimicking native user interfaces. “Don’t even try, you’ll never be as smooth and fancy as a native animation”. Sure, somehow that’s right, but we need to change our attitude before we can change theirs.

A screen rendered with our framework

A screen rendered with our framework

We developed web based applications from day one and we know the pains. Yes, it is way easier today to just pick up a native SDK and run with it than to try creating something beautiful and awesome with web technologies. But it’s a choice that you make. Freedom or restraint. Uncertainty or establishment. We have made our choice and we urge you to try, maybe not exclusively, but at least seriously try the web, too. You are not alone. All our past project stand on the shoulders of giants. All open source and all driven by the same passion. Everything we have learned we put into a powerful framework and tool belt. It allows us, today, to build data-driven apps in no time. But we are aiming for to make interaction-heavy, rich interfaces that supersede what is possible today, independent from the platform you are targeting. Of course, we can’t do this on our own. So, if you are an AngularJS developer and like to create mobile apps, please sign-up for your private beta. This will help us iron out the bugs and add important features to the framework before we will open-source it for everyone.

written by Stephan Bönnemann
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