The next major technology war: Apps vs. Browsers
Bloomberg recently reported that Apple leads an App industry likely to bring in $3.8bn in revenue in 2011; however, a TechCrunch article I read this morning reports that “58% of mobile web users get their content fix through browsers.”
Apps help to amplify the processing power of a smartphone, which is still limited compared to a full-fledged laptop or desktop computer, and consequently are able to do things that an otherwise simplified and crudely adapted webpage delivered via browser can’t do as well (i.e. for smartphone use, the NYTimes App is better than its standard webpage).
It will be interesting then to see how this prediction about browser-based “web-centricity” by McKinsey & Co. plays out:
The next generation of HTML, known as HTML5…[is]the most significant evolution yet in Web standards, is designed to allow programs to run through a Web browser, complete with video and other multimedia content that today require plug-in software and other work-arounds. In theory, this will make the browser a universal computing platform: without leaving it, users could do everything from editing documents to accessing social networks, watching movies, playing games, or listening to music. Not only would any device with a Web browser have these capabilities, but consumers would also have access to all content stored remotely “in the cloud,” independent of locations and devices.
HTML5 has the potential to improve the mobile experience—its specifications enable browsers to locally store 1,000 times more data than they currently do, so users can work when offline—writing e-mails, for example—and their devices will automatically update when a network becomes available.
I wonder whether Apple’s recent decision to forcefully integrate all Apps into its own ecosystem is partially in response to an anticipated 2.0 version of Browser Wars. Instead of Microsoft and Netscape competing for user attention via web-browsers in the late 1990s, we’ll see Apple’s ecosystem and development platforms competing with all browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Windows Explorer, etc.); or, alternatively, since this is a competition of ecosystems, perhaps we’ll see a whole new battle that exists analogously at the level of the operating system, essentially a 2.0 version of the market battles once waged between Microsoft’s Windows and Linux.
Personally, I think my bet is on browsers providing the richer and more inhabited ecosystem, in which case Apple will take some serious hits in the coming years as content providers favor the mostly non-Apple browser technologies (does Safari stand a chance?) that allows them to keep their data and not be forced to pay a long-term 30 percent cut per user acquired.
(Thanks to Dakiny for the incredible image.)