Web Apps

"Retail" for Web Apps

In Nathan Bashaw’s recent post, Understanding the Web’s Massive Distribution Problem, he explains that in the world of physical goods, manufacturers had only to gain access to the distribution channel, i.e. a retail or specialty store, in order to to gain access to the wallets of a mass of consumers.

For the consumer, life is good too: no need to physically travel to the manufacturer to get a product that you want — a simple walk down to the retailer is far more convenient.

On the web, however, life is different:

Online, the consumer doesn’t need to buy apps through retailers, so they don’t. They just type in the URL of the site they want to use. If they don’t know the right URL ahead of time, they google for it.

Bashaw sees this as a big problem for manufacturers (i.e. app developers) who no longer have a reliable channel through which they can reach users (aside from the App Store, which hasn’t yet been a force on the web). However, for consumers, he sees this as a win:

Turns out, our lives are better when we’re not forced to go to an intermediary to get what we want.

But what about discovery? As a consumer, I go to the grocery sometimes not just for convenience, but also because I’m not quite sure what brand of cereal to buy.

So maybe a “retailer” for web apps could be a win for consumers and brands, by helping brands with distribution, and consumers with discovery. I just don’t think anyone has found the right way to do it yet.

Mobile Apps and the Web Are Not Mutually Exclusive

According to Amir Nathoo’s recent post on Trigger.io, we’re in an mobile app gold rush right now, and we don’t even know it. The main premise is that while there are  lot of mobile apps now, it pales in comparison to web properties, and with the way mobile is going, it’s going to overtake the web in terms of eyeballs, money, and pretty much any other important statistic. Therefore, get on the train now while the getting is good, and ride the wave up. [1]

The most shocking quote: 

What if I told you that people who right now are developing standard web apps will actually spend most of their next 10 years writing mobile apps?

While this maybe true, it sort of ignores the entire paradigm shift that happened with the web. We moved from native desktop applications to web applications. Why? Because we could get a similar user experience while opening up new capabilities across a variety of platforms. 

The advent of web services to go along with mobile apps have created a class of applications that are web-aware, and interact with the web on a regular basis for their functionality, but take advantage of native User Interface and all the features that mobile offers (geolocation, for one).

But web applications still have a few key advantages: offloading processing onto servers in the cloud, near identical user experiences across platforms, and continuous releases.

Instead of mobile apps going the route of native apps, I think we’ll see the strengthening of HTML5 as a standard for mobile web apps. While Amir might be right that 10 years from now web developers will be developing for mobile, it might be more accurate to say that those developers will be developing mobile web apps.

10 years from now I think we’ll see the distinction between tablets, phones, laptops, and desktops vanish. The web still connects devices and retains the advantages that it had before. The challenge is just making web applications aware of mobile features, and respond based on the device.

[1] Just like all the big web properties of 1997 like: 

1. Geocities
2. Yahoo and Yahooligans, Yahoo Sports and My Yahoo
3. Starwave Corporation - Where More People Click
4. Excite, Magellan and City.Net
5. PathFinder, and Time/Warner and CNN sites: Warner Bros., HBO, DC Comics, Extra TV, Babylon5, CNN , CNN Financial Network and AllPolitics
6. AltaVista Search Engine
7. AOL Member Home Pages
8. CNET, Search.Com, News.Com and Download.com
9. The New York Times on the Web
10. Ziff Davis and HotFiles