Diego Gonzalez: It’s all about using the right platform for the task at hand 📋
What is the future of the mobile web, and can we actually compete with native?
We’re bringing you an interview with Diego Gonzalez-Zuniga, a Senior Engineer at Samsung Research UK. He works as a Developer Advocate in the Samsung Internet team. Combining his interests in 3D in apps, GUIs, VR, creative uses of technology, and video game, he spends time wandering the VR fields in search of sense.
How do you usually introduce yourself?
That’s… a complex question. It really depends on who I’ll be speaking to and what is the situation. Let’s leave it as Dr. D. for the time being.
How did you end up being a developer? What do you love the most about your work?
I think I eventually decided to go into Computing Engineering after I did a short course in high school about creating web pages with HTML. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’ve worked developing Win32 apps, WPF apps, Silverlight (which eventually led me to the Web), worked as a DBA in a CERM team, taught algorithms at a couple of universities, eventually did a couple of master’s degrees and topped it off with a PhD. I regret nothing. What I like about my job is that it kind of combines a bit from everything I’ve done in the past. I get to teach, travel, research, debate, collaborate and write. Also, my boss is not surprised if I come up with very unusual ideas.
Web is progressing fast with new hardware APIs. What are the most exciting specs you've recently encountered, and what’s coming?
The Web is indeed providing a very interesting canvas to create killer apps and experiences. It’s nice to be able to refer someone to some functionality by saying: “______? There’s an API for that.” I am super excited for the WebXR spec that’s being currently worked on, as well as Web Bluetooth. They sure combine nicely to interact with different objects. Already loving the IoT projects that will come out of this.
But in general, advances in CSS, the Web Components promise, the rise of the PWA, hopefully some real stereo HTML… It’s an exciting time to be developing for the web, and a great time to contribute ideas to standards if you like.
What is the future of the mobile web, and can we actually compete with native?
I’d say that the future of the mobile web is… *actual* mobility. Mobility in a way that surpasses the traditional concept of *just* being mobile, and wanders into the territory of progressive enhancement, accessibility and commoditization. Right now, being mobile seems to be linked to the concept of *mobile* devices, making the apps/experiences themselves tailored for 2 states: mobile or (non mobile) desktop.
While I'm aware that there are many instances of the word mobile in the previous paragraph, my point is that innovative experiences can be triggered by catering to the plethora of devices out there and leveraging different technologies and APIs available for the web. These experiences are truly mobile, regardless of devices *and* actual content. As an example, think about going from a physical object, to a browser, to the user’s homescreen to a VR headset. All this in less than 30 seconds by cleverly combining Physical Web, Progressive Web Apps and WebXR.
I don’t really think it’s about competing with native. There are things which native is good at, and there are things that suit the Web better. The Web platform certainly has an edge on discoverability, reach, immediacy, and socialness. The Web platform is very flexible. In any case, for the end user it doesn’t really matter what technology something is built on, what matters is the experience itself. This experience starts with how you find out about the app, it goes through the distribution process, and finally what you can do with the app itself.
We’re filling in gaps in the Web that make it more competent than ever for any type of app/experience to integrate into any type of scenario developers would want to. The addition of push notifications, Service Worker, and other technologies have even made big companies with app stores state they will crawl the web for modern web apps and list them in their marketplaces. It’s about using the right platform for the task at hand. If frictionless, fast and secure are among the characteristics you’re looking for, then the Web’s a safe (pun intended?) bet.
It’s great to see Samsung has been so active in the development community lately, what’s the company’s bigger plan with it?
The Web browser is an essential piece of software. Probably one of the most versatile that exists. It can do Augmented Reality, take payment requests and even lets you check your social networks without the use of an app (go figure…). As such, it is the first contact point that people have to the Web. It’s the cornerstone of how people consume digital services and content today. We think that a modern browser is an important part of a user’s experience with a device and it so happens the company itself makes hardware devices as well. We have a vision on privacy, workflows, UI and UX, and many of these ideas go hand in hand with the efforts that are already present in the community.
Being active in the development community allows us to be aware of what is required (both by users and devs) and come up with ideas on how we can make it better. Our bigger plan as a team has always been to “leave the web better than how we found it”. Having a strong evergreen browser is one great way to contribute to this cause, because of all the things it encompasses, from standards to teaching the web.
Do you get involved in new web standards/API design and review progress? Is Samsung active in this direction?
The Samsung Internet team is involved with standards, in many different levels. I sit with some colleagues from Samsung Research UK and Samsung Research America in the Immersive Web W3C Community Group. It’s the place where the WebXR spec is being worked on. I also chaired last year a W3C Workshop on WebVR Authoring in Brussels, in which we aimed to identify challenges and opportunities in creating WebXR experiences.
We have colleagues that are involved with the Payment Request API, our colleague Jungkee Song is an editor in the Service Worker API, and the head of Web Advocacy and Open Source Daniel Appelquist co-chairs the Technical Architecture Group. All this to say we not only try to implement the latest standards into the browser, but we also very actively contribute to their creation.
You’ve prepared lots of hardware devices for your talk at AmsterdamJS. How do you venerate the Demo Gods to let you run everything smoothly?
I’ll ask everyone to turn off their devices, and then tell them they’re holding them wrong. Pray to the kitten gods of the Web and just have a leap of faith into the open void of… a demo. It’ll be the first time I’ll have several devices on stage, so sticking to not letting them smell the fear in me. And crossing my fingers. But above all having a solo dance number as a plan B.
Are you excited about speaking at AmsterdamJS? What’s your experience with speaking so far?
I am very excited to speak at AmsterdamJS. Great city, great time of the year, great people. I think my PhD years were a good introduction to speaking in public. Got to face some though questions from other researchers and learned a lot from the whole experience. During my last year, I was working already as a developer advocate I got to do even more speaking, in a slightly more relaxed environment than the academic one.
I’ve gotten to speak at meetups, workshops, and conferences. I even get to speak with people from different backgrounds, like archaeologists, fashion designers, film students… this is something I really enjoy, having a chat on how web technology can help different people in different areas.