The Web is Dying—and Google Just Put the Final Nail in the Coffin

Everybody thinks they love the web. How could you not? “Apps” run the same everywhere on any device.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway. But you typically watch a blank screen—or, at best, some colored boxes—while the UI takes time to refresh. Not just once, but over and over again.

Sure, they’re adding new functionality all the time, but web apps are severely limited in what they can do compared to a native app. Yes, there are JavaScript bridges, but that adds more time and complexity.

Even the last bastion of web popularity—news sites and blogs—are now being subsumed by native news outlets like Facebook instant articles and Apple News.

But, but… what about Deep Linking, you ask? Both iOS and Android have deep linking now, so it’s no longer a web-only concept.

But displaying formatted text in a web view is so much easier than creating it on native platforms, you say. Well, since at least version 8, iOS text views have the ability to display HTML-formatted text. This is true even on tvOS on Apple TV, which doesn’t have a web view at all. Problem solved.

And look how things are progressing. Apple Watch doesn’t have any web functionality—and neither does Apple TV. The push is on for native apps.

Surprisingly, it was Google who put the final nail in the coffin.

Google just announced (or, rather, leaked the news) that

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Apple software quality: is the sky really falling?

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing for the past few months about the perceived quality of Apple’s software, and it seems to have reached fever pitch with yesterday’s post by Marco Arment (http://www.marco.org/2015/01/04/apple-lost-functional-high-ground).

Rather than whine about any perceived “losing” on Apple’s part, let me describe what I think is happening, what’s driving those changes, and how long those drivers might compel change into the future.

What’s happening?

The claim is that Apple’s <insert software name here> is buggy and/or getting buggier. <Insert software here> can refer to any or all of iOS 7, iOS 8, OS X 10.9, OS X 10.10, Xcode, Swift, iPhoto, etc.

I agree with most of the Apple-software-quality-is-declining blog posts in terms of individual problems they’ve pointed out. Yes, the iOS 8.0.1 bug fix went terribly wrong. Yes, there are problems with rotation handling in iOS 8. Yes, Xcode’s code formatter crashes constantly when writing Swift code (although this seems to have been mostly fixed recently). Yes, OS X 10.10 had wifi problems.

In Apple’s defense, consider the fact that the iOS 8.0.1 problem was detected within hours, and fixed in a day or two. It was also due to a configuration issue that wasn’t tested on live phone networks. Also in Apple’s defense, consider that none of these software quality problems resulted in lost data. Anyone around for OS X’s early days remembers the 10.3 Oxford chip set problem with Firewire 800 devices, and how that *did* result in lost data. http://www.cnet.com/news/firewire-800-drives-with-oxford-922-apple-statement-lacie-wiebetech-owc-updates-oxford-statement-taking-precautions/

Now this doesn’t mean I think Apple deserves a Get Out of Jail Free card. I mean, when you ship a laptop with no physical network jack and then you ship an OS update that messes up wifi, well, your customers deserve to be angry at their loss of productivity.

So, sure, Apple has botched a few things, but I think it’s pretty obvious that they’ve botched things at least as bad in the past. So let’s not bring up the “this wouldn’t happen if Steve Jobs were around” mantra, OK? Great.

What’s driving these quality problems?

Are there more problems than in the past? Yes, but that’s because of the enormous amount of change lately.

  • iOS and OS X are much more complicated than they used to be, and there are a lot more users worldwide.
  • Apple is trying to make iOS and OS X more alike than they already are (for users and developers), as ARM-based, touch-driven devices catch up to the speed and screen size of Intel-based, keyboard-driven devices.
  • Apple is innovating on the developer front (Xcode 6, Swift, Adaptive UI, Apple Pay, Health Kit, Home Kit, Extensions, Metal, iCloud, etc.).
  • Apple is innovating on the device front (Apple TV, CarPlay, Apple Watch, iPhone 6/6 Plus, A8 and A8X chips, etc.)

Despite the fact that Apple is famous for having a limited number of hardware devices for sale, this is an enormous amount of change. I can’t emphasize this enough. For the past two years, Wall Street has been saying Apple wasn’t innovating—yet this year Apple revealed enormous changes in APIs and devices that it has been working on in secret for 2 or more years.

So what’s driving these software quality problems? In a word, change. Enormous change, at a rapid pace.

Why is there this enormous ecosystem change?

OK, so enormous, rapid change means that software is harder to get right, out the door. But why? Why is Apple creating enormous change so rapidly?

The answer to that is complicated. It’s a lot of things: competition for users, competition for developers, and changes within Apple.

It’s not just Apple vs. Microsoft anymore. Apple is competing for users with Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The biggest challenges are Google—with Android, Chrome, search, and services—and Facebook, with the largest social network in the world. Court rulings have demonstrated that it’s hard for Apple to protect the difficult, multi-year work involved in device and UX design with intellectual property rights (patents). Apple has to compete a different way, so it’s going to be constant innovation.

Apple’s also competing for developers. Google has lots of developer APIs for its services, Facebook has Parse, and of course Microsoft has myriad popular developer tools both for Windows and the cloud.

The third area that has driven so much change is the shuffling of Apple’s management. Not only has Steve Jobs passed away, but also Tim Cook fired Scott Forstall. While neither of these events is cause for alarm, both Jobs and Forstall had strong opinions about user experience that conflicted with Jony Ives and possibly others at Apple. That resulted in the quick jettisoning of the ostensibly dated look of iOS 6 and OS X 10.9—and its skeuomorphic baggage—and the new streamlined look, motion effects, and transparency effects of iOS 7 and OS X 10.10. That executive shuffling may also have resulted in the new larger iPhones, requiring lots of rethinking of developer tools for layout out apps.

So what does the future hold?

OK, we have enormous change, driven by internal and external forces (management changes and competition). Can we expect this to continue? Are Apple users doomed to eternal software glitches?

Well, I think it’ll continue for the next 6 months at a minimum. We still have the iPad 6 Pro/Plus coming, which may require more UX and API changes. We have the Apple Watch, for which Apple has released a preliminary SDK, but promises even more changes in a year or so. Apple TV is set for a refresh. CarPlay is in its infancy. And now Mattt Thompson is thinking Swift may be only the beginning of a much bigger change for developer tools and APIs (The Death of Cocoa: http://nshipster.com/the-death-of-cocoa/).

So hold on tight, folks. The next year may involve almost as many changes as the past year. And there may be more glitches along the way.

My feeling is that this is unavoidable, with the enormous change that is happening at Apple.

The good news, though, is that I don’t think this rapid rate of change is sustainable. And I don’t mean just users and developers. I think Apple has some very sharp people, but even they cannot sustain this rapid change of pace forever.

The rapid pace of change will ebb and flow. Remember, Apple doesn’t come out with amazing new category-killer devices every year. There are 5-10 years between new categories: Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and now Apple Watch.

So this torrid pace will continue for a year, and then I think it will calm down. And then Apple’s software developers can catch up. And 3rd party developers can catch up. And users will be able to breath a sigh a relief. But not before this tumultuous 2-year period (we’re half way through it now) is over.

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The one thing no one is talking about for Apple’s iPad & Mac event this week

Software.

Sure, everyone wants new devices, and new devices are a key part of Apple’s ecology, but devices without software (apps) are meaningless. Take Windows Phone… please.

OK, so some people are talking about OS X Yosemite and iTunes 12 being unveiled tomorrow. Sure, that’s software, but we’ve heard all about Yosemite at WWDC in June, and iTunes will get a new coat of paint but otherwise won’t be significantly different.

I’m talking about major software changes. What am I talking about?

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If iOS 8 gets split-screen apps, the status bar is probably going away

Daring Fireball discusses an article imagining how complicated iOS will get if it gets the split-screen, multi-app view that Windows 8 has.

But I think they’re completely missing the point of iOS 7’s apps owning the whole screen and living “behind” the status bar.

Apple is very slow and methodical. What I think this means is that

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Will Apple make universal apps work on iOS and OS X?

Apple already has “universal apps” that run on both iPhones and iPads, from a single binary. The user only has to buy an app once, and it will run on any iOS device they have. (Note that not all companies provide their apps this way, and I believe companies like Omni Group and others that sell their apps separately for the iPhone and iPad are desperately clinging to the past, but that’s the subject of another post.)

But why not take this a step further? Why not have apps that run on iPhones and iPads also run on Macs? Why bother having 2 App Stores, one for iOS and one for OS X? Microsoft is going down this route with their (future) plans to merge their Windows and Windows Phone stores. But how can Apple do something similar without running into the same problem Windows 8 has, which is making the desktop experience catered too much to a touch interface? How can Apple leverage their thousands of iOS developers and get them to be OS X developers?

There are several ways that  Continue reading

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The Real Reason Microsoft is Porting OneNote to the Mac: An Apple Acquisition

The Verge has reported that Microsoft is planning on releasing OneNote for the Mac. While Evernote is certainly a target, I think there’s more to the story than that.

There are also rumors of iOS 8 containing a note-taking application. How this app differs from the built-in iOS Notes app is not clear, but it may have a lot to do with this acquisition by Apple:  Continue reading

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Are Sapphire Screens the Key to Hardened Mobile Devices for the Enterprise?

Sapphire screens have made a big splash in the rumor mill lately for the next generation of iPhones. All the stories I’ve read tout sapphire’s scratch resistance, shatter-resistance, and even caustic substance resistance as great for consumers–but what about the enterprise?

In the days of yore, Windows CE handhelds were available from some  manufacturers as ‘hardened’ devices to withstand the rigors of factories, and use by field workers and healthcare workers. However, two things conspire against the availability of hardened devices in the age of iOS and Android:  Continue reading

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