Real Time Communications Featured Article

Is the Web Browser on its Last Legs?

November 20, 2014

I always find it amazing how trends not only change, but tend to flip flop back and forth. Analysts seem to be quick to say that something is either on its way out, dying or already dead, based on usage. It must be the zombie craze that we are currently surrounded by, because most of these “dead” products or ideas are once again walking around.

Four words that are currently being repeated on a regular basis are “The Web is dead.” While in the past many reasons were given, what has caused concern in the present is that people appear to be using their native apps on their smartphones rather than browsing the Web. The feeling is that these apps are whittling away at the amount of time spent searching the Web.

When you look at the screen on your smartphone, all of the icons that you see are apps, not websites and they work in ways that are fundamentally different from the way the Web does. The data that analysts sort through shows that people are spending time in apps that they once spent surfing the Web. The apps do appear to have taken over. According to mobile analytics company Flurry, people spend 86 percent of their time in apps and just 14 percent on the Web.

The fact of the matter is that if the Web is truly on its way out, then why are all the browser companies updating and coming up with new features for their products? A lot of these companies are implementing many more standards that will help bring new native features to the Web. Some people have mentioned that much of the time spent in native apps is devoted to viewing Web content via an in-app browser.

Today, as apps gain more ground, the Web’s architects do seem to be abandoning it. An example is Google’s newest email experiment called Inbox. It is available on both the Android and iOS platforms however, on the Web it doesn’t work in any browser except Chrome. The process of creating new Web standards has slowed to a crawl. Meanwhile, companies with app stores are devoted to making those stores better than and unfortunately, entirely incompatible with other app stores.

To say that the Web is dead is premature. There are developing technologies that still breathe life into Web, such as Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC). This  is an API definition drafted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that supports browser-to-browser applications for voice calling, video chat and peer-to-peer file sharing without the need of either internal or external plugins.

In fact, the San Jose Convention Center is hosting WebRTC Conference & Expo this week. A long list of exhibitors will be showcasing their products, which is a strong indication that the Web is still surviving and thriving.

Web Components should make it easier to build sophisticated user interfaces by allowing developers to share usable components. Browser makers are looking to make it simpler to create web apps that work when the network is down. These would be designed so that everything the app needs to function, at least in its most basic form, is stored on the device and it only needs to connect to the network to pull in new data.

The feeling is that Web technologies have an advantage over native apps. Once these are established in the major browsers, they should all be based on the same standards, which will guarantee that there will be compatibility between dissimilar Web services. That is an advantage that they will have over native apps that tend to favor themselves.

It seems to me that the bottom line is that native apps sort of rely on the Web for connectivity, so rather than two conflicting sides, are they not more like the flip side of a coin? Both exist together and both work off of each other. I was browsing the Internet in the late 80s, if you could call it that. Much has changed since then and I do not see the technology waning. I see changes and a brief slowdown as the environment is constantly being reassessed, but I still see a consistent trend forward.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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