The future of Web and Native

This question has been going around for quite some time, but let’s stop to look at why in the last couple of years it has become so prevalent. Google is strong proponent in driving demand in the web community to create a browser that is capable of replacing native capabilities of a device. This viewpoint raises several questions about the certainty and continuity of existing device operating systems as we know it. Ultimately it is my belief that organisations like Google want to ensure that everyone is on the web to guarantee they are able to build as full of a profile of each individual. This thorough and deep profiling provides the greatly desired silver bullet of marketing and advertising enabling advertisers and manufactures to anticipate the desire of consumers and market to them prior to their realisation they even have a desire for a product. A great example of this is the target customer where the organisation knew about the daughter’s pregnancy before the parents[1]. However I don’t want explore this tangent and choose not to title this article: “Are we drinking the Google Kool-aid?”

Returning to the question of the future of the web, whilst with the context of Google’s (or should I say Alphabet Inc) business ambitions for the web to be ubiquitous and the frame that the current web is an multi-purpose platform. Putting a lens on the web and it’s capabilities we will benefit from exploring it’s history, highlighting the original purpose was to allow the dissemination of structured content across multiple nodes[2]. Specifically of interest to Tim Berners-Lee was the dissemination of information and enhancing communication, which developed into and took root based on individuals utilising it to communicate via messaging services, forums, websites and other services. Continuing along the thread of the internet and web to the present day we see that very little has changed in terms of the peoples behaviour and utilisation. Even taking into consideration the increasing capabilities of browsers, that very little has changed in terms of the fundamental human behaviour on the web. Instead the increase in functionality has allowed a greater degree of sophistication with delivery and usage of the content and interactions.

Some may say the web is evolving, but even the behaviour of a single page application is not that far removed from the patterns we have seen already displayed in how people utilise the web. This evolution has been enabled because Microsoft invented AJAX[3] to solve a reporting and platform issue. Equally there would not be animated sites if Macromedia had not put Flash[4] on the web; this being superseded by HTML5 animations. Yet each step of evolution the technologies have matured where there have been many challenges addressed in terms of security and interoperability. Look at the confusion around Flash when rejected by Apple, a majority of people as they did not consider the implications of Flash on mobile as we already had a version which to a limited extent worked. Yet at it’s roots Flash is great on a device which is tethered to a power supply and as It is a black box technology the capabilities, security and performance concerns of smartphones were not easily addressed. We have come to recognise that that it did not make sense to enable flash under these constraints, as not all platforms are built equally nor are they suitable for all situations.

Now this brings me back to the question are we reasonable in expecting the web to become the next platform and replace our native capabilities. We can answer the question with 2 responses. In a homogenous technology environment it is very reasonable to expect the web to replace native. However we live in a heterogenous environment where the varying needs of individuals and groups mean it is difficult to create one ubiquitous platform that will serve all equally. Look at the struggle that Java has had in creating a ubiquitous platform and the specific performance concerns that games or even start ups like Uber face where the web would not be good enough with those specific requirements. In my mind there is a place for the web, connected devices and natively compiled applications in our future.

I have a proposal in at SxSW if you want to see me there vote here.

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