The Financial Times just announced they are pulling their iOS app and will focus exclusively on their HTML5 web app for delivering content to mobile devices. This is cause for mild celebration for Web Developers such as myself.
I briefly toyed with iOS app development a couple of years ago (back when you still didnt need to advertise your app to get noticed in the App Store). Having no formal training, and coming from a scripting language context, trying to learn Objective-C and at the same time understand “desktop” or “client” based programming paradigms was just too much. I made the decision that professionally it was a better use of my time to become a better Web Developer than to try to strike gold with an iPhone app.
Turns out that was the right decision for me, but I have often wondered since exactly what the future of the traditional browser-served web? Facebook recently announced that 51% of their traffic is from mobile devices. And it seems like everybody with a website of any consequence has released a native app for mobile.
I’ve used some of these apps. You have too. Typically its some news outfit that just had to have an app. Nevermind it is just serving up a UIwebView window with their mobile site embedded in it. These companies are still banking on being “found” in the App space.
But I’ve found myself actually NOT using these apps. I delete them, and I simply bookmark their sites in mobile Safari. Its just easier. And it leads me to this rather obvious conclusion: NOT EVERYTHING HAS TO BE AN APP. NOT EVERYTHING IS IMPROVED BY BEING “NATIVE.”
Apps should do something more than just provide content for reading. I use this distinction all the time at work. When educating new audiences about our web apps, I refer to a web application as a “web site that does something”. Maybe web sites don’t need apps, period. Its redundant and causes extra work on developers to support multiple platforms.
So, FT’s news today just brightened my day a bit. We’re getting more and more mobile-centric, though I assume that will peak some day in the near future. However, there still is and probably always will be a significant (even if not dominant) role for the browser based web experience (particularly in enterprise). To take it further, some web apps are simply to complicated to offer a full feature set in the mobile space, web or native. That doesn’t mean you don’t bother with mobile, but it means that maybe all this “mobile first” stuff isn’t a universal constant.
To get more specific, PHP will continue to have a role to play in the “front end” web, and won’t just be relegated to a server side way to respond to requests for content content from native apps.