Saturday, February 13, 2010

The App Store and the Mobile Web

I read an article today about the Google Voice mobile app and how awesome it is. I can’t disagree, its made me embrace the cloud a few years too late for someone as nerdy as me.

I finally decided on a phone number for Google Voice.

I exported my Address Book contacts specifically for Google Voice, then used the new feature in Snow Leopard to sync with Google regularly.

I even tried using Lala for music without cluttering my work laptop until Apple bought them.

That article really got me riled up though. So much so I resurrected the blog to talk about it. The article, and this one right here, “Will the Mobile Web Kill Off the App Store?”, are both so ignorant of the recent present that I wonder if these ‘journalists’ even pay attention to the articles in their RSS feed they feel obligated to blog about every once in a while.

Don’t misunderstand me, I love webapps. I work on one every single day. They are the definition of portability and they have been ever since Paul Graham invented the Arc programming language to make arguably the first webapp, an e-commerce platform that was eventually purchased by Yahoo. I’m digging the cloud, welcoming our new internet overlords, Google, into more and more aspects of my life. I love the Steam store, never having to save CD keys or even physical discs, keep the proof of purchase on the cloud. Thanks bro. Servers that host your shit for you are just better. People get paid to make those datacenters redundant as fuck. Barring Google or Steam going out of business, I should be fine (Privacy concerns and perfectly rational worries about them outright jacking stuff you legitimately purchased aren’t the point, resistance is futile). Ever since people started using fucking hotmail people stopped worrying about aol dot com or cox dot net accounts and downloading mails and outlook express, this has been a long time coming. But people didn’t seem to want web apps on the iPhone all those years ago when it first dropped.

I bought an iPhone back when they had no apps, had an aluminum back (which I still like better, dings and scratches be damned), no 3g, a shittily designed headphone jack that required special headphone jacks or an adapter, AND cost three times the current incarnation. WITH A CONTRACT. Way back in those dinosaur times, just the touchscreen was enough to make everyone go apeshit. Once the awe faded people started asking the inevitable, “This is a computer, right? Where are the 3rd party apps?” In response, Apple released a 60 page document entitled iPhone Human Interface Guidelines for Web Applications, a starting point for developers that wanted to make webapps that looked native enough and behaved the way you would expect quality Mac software to behave, albeit slow as fuck on Edge. This wasn’t good enough for developers anxious to hack on the NEXT BIG THING and it certainly wasn’t good enough for the tech journalists, most of which couldn’t tell you which end of a try-catch statement to hold. The hackers cried foul and began hanging out in seedy IRC channels and plotting their altruistic and warranty-voiding jailbreaks while the tech hangers-on cheered them on from the sidelines. They were sticking it to the MAN, man.

I don’t know if Apple had plans to release an SDK all along and they were goaded into doing it earlier than they planned. It certainly seems plausible, they announced the SDK well before it came out as if to sate the spuming masses. Who knows. Point is, the mobile web was simply not good enough for most of the fanatics, and more than a few of the great unwashed that just wanted to make fun of Apple’s idiotic foray into a BlackBerry and Palm dominated smartphone space.

I can see the original indignation, the network wasn’t fast and I’m sure people didn’t realize just how much you could do with a webapp and the right mobile stylesheet. HTML5 may have not been production ready back then. I’m sure the idea of the mobile web still carried with it the unflattering idea of the BlackBerry web. I can especially understand how eager hackers would take umbrage that the company that they love wouldn’t let them toy with their new device, despite the added cred and thrill they would get from hacking it anyway. What bothers me are the tech journos.

Here we are, two and one half years from the debut of the original iPhone, two incarnations in, a BILLION apps sold on the app store, more ways to talk like T-Pain and make fart noises than the average consumer knows what to do with. Just a few months ago I read praise for the App Store and desires to see it for all mobile devices, and even desktop/laptop apps. Now that the narrative of Apple v. Google, cage match fight to the death, has permeated the tech blogger’s consciousness though, Google is seen as doing an end-around (WHODAT) on Apple by releasing Google Voice as a webapp. With Javascript and HTML5 it makes the case for webapps once again, and a damn good one at that. Its taken just two and a half years for people to realize that minus the 3g, we could probably have had the mobile web all along. HTML5 has been in development for 6 years under the name Web Application 1.0. But now that the Google Voice app was rejected by Apple, and there has been a schism between the two giants, it paints an exciting narrative for all the hangers-on when Google releases a competent web app for the iPhone. All of a sudden portability comes back into the lexicon, run it on your Droid, your Creepy Blue Eyed Lady Palm Pre, your toaster. These tech journos are all indecisive blowhards that couldn’t even write a “Hello World!” app if I gave them the first three lines.

It took 50 years to run the gamut from assembly on mainframes, to ‘portable’ apps written in C, to ‘true portability’ with the Java Virtual Machine, to webapps. Apple wanted to start with webapps, and the tech journos goaded them into playing through the cycle again in fucking high speed. Good job guys. Maybe next you could enlighten us on the merits of papyrus or stone tablets?

“If I asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’.” - Henry Ford