For Apps is Mobile first and Web last?

As a farewell thought for 2020, let me leave you with an observation of a trend of last few years that got cemented this year.

As an early developer for the web, I had believed that applications will get developed for the web first, depending on the market you then write native apps for iOS and/or Android. Using iPhone for the last few weeks, I am observing it is the other way round nowadays. Even if there is a web version of an app they are crippled compared to the native mobile apps.

Look at Instagram where posting is not available on the web version (for God’s sake, why?), or think of IMDB where functionality like to “Add to check-in” are unavailable on the web, Amazon shopping app on iOS looks modern compared to the website, which appears to have not been updated for decades. The new mesh wireless system TP-Link (Deco M5) I recently got makes the configuration possible only from a mobile app, the web interface was just for monitoring. Amazon (India) has a few lightning deals which are mobile only (again, why do they do that?). The list goes on and on.

Even with mobile apps, iOS apps are polished compared to Android with their fit-and-finish. Does Apple’s famous reality distortion field affect app developers too?
Yes, there are apps which can be mobile only due to sensors and so on. But I believe they are far and few. Why do you think this trend is happening? Is it because the users are anyways on mobile devices?

When I shared this thought on social media, I heard from many of you that the reasons for the trend is the ability for companies to gather a lot more data from mobile apps like location, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi network, list of installed apps and so on. As the public services on the Internet (Gmail, Facebook) we know and love are predominantly advertisement funded, the more the data that can be collected, it is better to improve their ML models and advertisement targeting. This is explained in detail in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma (2020). The second I heard is about the quality of development platforms and tools that are available for Mobile Apps, especially Apple’s XCODE and SWIFT are superior when it comes to UI development.

Moving forward I see two opposite directions in which the trend can proceed in this decade. As Governments around the world clamp-down on big tech, and, Apple continuing their lockdown ( think of iOS 14 Privacy features) of what Mobile Apps can do, the attractiveness of Mobile apps may go away and companies may decide to do PWA (Progressive Web Apps) that works across platforms. The other direction could be the gradual timeout for the open web and web browsers — the technologies powering web like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, HTTPS, Web Assembly, etc. will continue and grow — we will not be seeing them or using them from a web browser. Stay tuned!

Originally published at https://venkatarangan.com on December 31, 2020.

Entrepreneur, Public Speaker, CEO Coach & Microsoft Regional Director (Honorary) in Chennai, India