Chris Dixon articulates the danger of an app-dominated internet, where big companies like Apple and Google regulate innovation:
People are spending more time on mobile vs desktop.
This is a worrisome trend for the web. Mobile is the future. What wins mobile, wins the Internet. Right now, apps are winning and the web is losing.
Moreover, there are signs that it will only get worse. Ask any web company and they will tell you that they value app users more than web users. This is why you see so many popups and banners on mobile websites that try to get you to download apps. It is also why so many mobile websites are broken. Resources are going to app development over web development. As the mobile web UX further deteriorates, the momentum toward apps will only increase.
The likely end state is the web becomes a niche product used for things like 1) trying a service before you download the app, 2) consuming long tail content (e.g. link to a niche blog from Twitter or Facebook feed).
This will hurt long-term innovation from a number of reasons:
1) Apps have a rich-get-richer dynamic that favors the status quo over new innovations. Popular apps get home screen placement, get used more, get ranked higher in app stores, make more money, can pay more for distribution, etc. The end state will probably be like cable TV – a few dominant channels/apps that sit on users’ home screens and everything else relegated to lower tiers or irrelevance.
2) Apps are heavily controlled by the dominant app stores owners, Apple and Google. Google and Apple control what apps are allowed to exist, how apps are built, what apps get promoted, and charge a 30% tax on revenues.
Most worrisome: they reject entire classes of apps without stated reasons or allowing for recourse (e.g. Apple has rejected all apps related to Bitcoin). The open architecture of the web led to an incredible era of experimentation. Many startups are controversial when they are first founded. What if AOL or some other central gatekeeper had controlled the web, and developers had to ask permission to create Google, Youtube, eBay, Paypal, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Sadly, this is where we’re headed on mobile.
Chris is right that if the current trend continues, the internet will be a less interesting place. Not only does an App Store-world preclude business innovation, it limits individual expression, the lifeblood of the internet.
The problem with the current model extends beyond big companies playing gatekeeper roles. Publishing an app is much harder than publishing a website. It takes more dollars, more know-how. And apps live in silos, not in an interlinked network like the web, limiting content diversity.
That said, we can’t ignore the superior user experience that native apps bring. Facebook’s mobile app is much better than their website. You don’t have to log on. There are no page loads. It feels fluid and simple and alive. It’s always on your homescreen, so you’ll never forget to check it. These are killer features.
But an internet that looks like a mall—with 10 or so major brands—is a depressing future. That future isn’t inevitable. A core interest of mine has been rethinking what the web, and the internet, should look like in this new era of computing.