I have this weird yet wonderful and dear I say it, beautiful idea that native apps - those things we download and install on our devices so we can apparently view, receive, interact with content far better than without - will be removed as we currently understand them to be.
I know, it's a bold claim. Allow me to me explain myself.
Today's apps are just repurposed CMS tools
The App Store & Play Store was first launched in 2008, welcoming in the arrival of mobile apps. Yet for 7 years - 7 years!? - we have wondered whether it's worthwhile finding a new way to interact with mammoth amounts of content and enhance UI and UX, or continue mashing out mundane native apps which are futuristically obselete.
Do not get me wrong, I am thankful we went through the “app revolution”. It has taught us all so much about UI and UX.
It’s just that I see an app as merely a CMS tool that we download over and over again that has been packaged for a specific platform and generally forced on us to download and requires installation and updating. This doesn't really follow the original motivation for building apps, which was to promote efficiency in a number of areas, including: resources, time, development, deployment, functionality, collaboration and cross-platformality.
What would make apps better?
Now some might say I have no clue with regards to what I am talking about. How could app development possibly be dying out? How can I possibly be saying this when new tools are being released almost monthly to make packaging and deployment faster (for example, good ol' PhoneGap)? What would or could replace these CMS tools we “the all unknowing user” rely on?
My answer is simple: three technologies, cached memory, and a handful of visionaries and developers who want to revolutionise apps to make them so much more than mundane CMS tools.
But is the tech world ready for apps to evolve?
The tech world is divided on how they envision the future of apps. For example, Scott Shaw of ThoughtWorks Australia voices a few concerns with regards to RESS and cross-platform development for an article in the CIO magazine. On the other end of the spectrum, Christopher Mims, a contributor to the MIT Technology review blog, argues that "mobile apps will soon be dead" due to the rise in web apps which will allow consumers to use the app offline.
"The real threat are web apps. The kind that will download to your device the moment you open then, allowing you offline access, whether they’re news, games, email or some other utility. If you don’t believe they’ll work – and eliminate dependencies on plugins outside of open web standards, like flash – go download a free copy of Angry Birds for Google Chrome and try disconnecting from your local network. Magic!"
Mims believes that the rise of web apps will "set a trend of devices downloading content the moment you open a selected browser app and therefore granting you offline access."
Now, if you're a device-agnostic development evangelist and this post is about to make your head explode, check out this article from Web Designer Depot which proposes a device-agnostic approach to responsive design.
I am not a believer of device-agnostic development as-is… native hardware components add additional usability and interactivity with the device and user. However, with regards to RESS - which isn't the answer to end all of all debates but is most certainly part of the transition - we need to code with devices in mind.
JQuery offers a solid way to ID mobile devices and with that the ability to ID native hardware (allbeit a lengthy method). More recently a developer on GitHub has released a mobile ID tool which proves we have the ability to effectively and efficiently detect mobile and tablet devices
I’m not going to force the gospel of “a form of RESS” on you. I have weighed up the pros and cons before choosing my stance, which can be perhaps more eloquently summed up in this article from Six Revisions which details some negatives to responsive design as "the future of web".
For me, a form of RESS is the future but - as with the app revolution - there will be a transition period. As robust as responsive design and its frameworks may seem, it's still lacking when it comes to certain runtime issues, offline usage, and so on. RESS is merely a stepping stone to the ultimate responsive design with new guidelines, governance and protocols. And so “with great power comes great responsibility”… to develop carefully crafted but efficient cross-platform collaborative use.
Written by Alan Williams
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