What If Web Didn’t Exist? What If There Were Only Native Apps?

By Neal Grosskopf, Software Engineering Director

Published: July 28, 2014

It seems like every other day I read an article predicting the. death. of. the. web. due to native apps. This got me to thinking – what if web didn’t exist? What if there were only native apps?

The nice thing about using the web with a browser is it allows for a very seamless experience when moving from one piece of information to the next. I view my Facebook news feed, move to a news site and then move to another site in a matter of a few seconds and a few clicks or taps.

I decided to mockup this experience in a native app environment to see what it would look like.

Native Only Demo

View the Demo >>

As you can see, it would be very cumbersome to download a unique app for each and every company in existence today. To put it into perspective, after doing a little Firefox history mining, using SQLlite, in the last 1.5 years I’ve visited 6,448 unique websites. If only native apps existed, this would likely mean I would have downloaded 6,448 unique apps or I may have been unable to view many of those if no app existed. Can you imagine having 6,448 apps on your phone? Would a 16gb fixed capacity phone like the iPhone even be able to store this many apps? What would the home screen look like with 6,448 apps on it?

The beauty of using a browser+the web is I can move from site to site only downloading the assets I need for that one page or news article. With a native app, I need to download a 5-20mb file for each property just to access the content. Another way to look at it is – using the web is like using the world’s biggest app all at the same time where you download just the pieces you need in a “just in time” format.

Linking Between Apps

The other issue that exists in native apps is the ability to link between apps. Facebook is trying to solve this issue with Applinks. Other solutions involve custom URI protocols such as YouTube:// or Ebay://. Even if there is a unified solution to the problem of linking between apps, it still needs to solve the issue of needing to install 6,448 apps and how much of a disruption it is to have to go to the app store and download a single app just to view a news article.

Updating Apps

Finally, the last problem I see in a native only world would be app updates. It seems like apps are updated on a weekly schedule. I can only imagine what my 6,448 theoretical apps would do to my phone if each of them updated once a week. Especially with each of them downloading the entire app over again each time.

While I write this article tongue in cheek, I do think it’s important to consider whether you want to create a wall between your users and your content before deciding to create a native app. Is your app something that users are going to be using on a daily basis? If not, perhaps it’s best to consider other channels to deliver the information to them rather than clutter up their phone with yet another app. On the flip side, if your app is something users will probably use on a minute-to-minute basis, like Facebook, native apps are a wonderful way for users to get the content they want as quickly as possible.