Web apps are already the platform, for some people
In June 2007, just before the iPhone was released, app developers didn’t have an SDK to play with — which at the time, Steve Jobs touted as being a good thing, saying:
And so you can write amazing Web 2.0 and AJAX apps that look and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone, and these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services. They can make a call, check email, look up a location on Gmaps…don’t worry about distribution, just put ‘em on an internet server. They’re easy to update, just update it on your server. They’re secure, and they run securely sandboxed on the iPhone. And guess what, there’s no SDK you need! You’ve got everything you need if you can write modern web apps…
Engadget felt it was “weeeeeaaaak.” Gizmodo said “No SDK sucks.” They were right, of course. Two years later, the fully SDK’d iPhone App Store has more than 50,000 apps that together have been downloaded more than a billion times. Web apps, then and now, are far from being the Next New Thing.
There are two key differences between Google now and Apple 2 years ago here:
- Google is serious about the web being the platform. They really believe that. It’s what their entire business is built upon. Apple didn’t honestly believe that, or else they would have set up most of their built-in apps in the same way (Notes may have even synced to, well, SOMETHING instead of having to wait 2 years for that functionality). The web apps thing was an obvious sleight-of-hand on Apple’s part while they scrambled to get their native app SDK in a state that they could show the developer community. It was a stopgap from the beginning.
- The iPhone’s web app possibilities were somewhat limited because there’s no plugin support available (tons of web apps glue the pieces together with bits of Flash or Java even when they’re mostly based on AJAX stuff), because you’re having to deal with the constraints of the web AND the constraints of a smaller screen (especially once the on-screen keyboard pops up), and because developers could tell from the very beginning that web apps were a temporary ghetto that they weren’t going to tie themselves down to. Compare that to Google Chrome’s “web app” platform, which is already populated by a huge array of awesome things that exist. Not just Google’s stuff, but stuff like 280slides or pixlr or almost.at or facebook or flickr.
Google isn’t trying to suggest that the web is the platform of the future— to them, it’s the platform of today for a wealth of people for whom the desktop OS is just a barrier between them and their web browser. Is that all of us, in every situation? Probably not. I like my desktop OS; I keep lots of files locally on a hard drive that I want access to and I want to know I have ownership of that data. But off the top of my head I can name 10 people I know personally who don’t care about that. They take photos with their phone, send them directly to Flickr, listen to music exclusively through things like Pandora and imeem, and save their documents in Google Docs or Gmail. The web is their platform. MacOS is my platform. Windows 7 is your platform. The future is full of options.