As humans, we inherently love things that make our lives easier. And if that means saying goodbye to old tech and hello to new tech, we will do it without blinking an eye. Telegram was replaced by email in the 90's, print media was replaced by the web in the 00's, and it is happening to traditional TV at the hands of streaming services as I write this article. Rather ironically, websites (which replaced print media less than ten years ago), seem to be the next big technology that is set to fall. And mobile apps are ready to take their place.
To understand why this is a possibility, one first needs to understand why mobile apps are better than websites. Put simply, mobile apps just have more capabilities:
- More powerful.
- Superior user experience.
- Access to mobile device features.
- Operate without network activity.
- Integration with other platforms.
- Superior aesthetic.
For a more comprehensive explanation, please read 5 Reasons Apps Are Better Than Websites.
It is easy to see where apps are superior to websites, however, it is also important to look at the things that are standing in the way of mobile apps.
What About Computers?
In 2014, app analytics company Flurry found that 86% of smartphone use was spent in apps while the remaining 14% was spent on the mobile web. These statistics tell us that users prefer mobile apps to the mobile web. However, mobile devices are obviously not the only devices that use websites. Considering this, you may be wondering what computers will use to browse the web if websites cease to exist. Well, just like websites, it is very likely that computers (as we know them) will also fade away in place of new technology.
In 2008, KPCB found that the average US internet user spent only 12% of their digital media time on mobile devices, in 2015, the average US internet user spent 51% of their digital media time on mobile devices! That is an annual growth rate of 60% for seven years! If this rate continues over the next 5-10 years, it is highly likely that this statistic could be well above 80%. However, there is one factor limiting this level of growth. Smartphones do not currently have the power to match the capabilities of modern computers and laptops. Because of this, in 2015, computers and laptops are still taking up 42% of the remaining digital media usage.
How long will it be before mobile devices are powerful enough? With devices like the Microsoft Surface and the Apple iPad constantly blurring the lines between mobile device and computer, it is reasonable to assume that in the foreseeable future, we will no longer be using computers and laptops as we know them today. Microsoft's last two computer operating systems have been built to include touch capabilities and apps, that sounds more like a mobile device than a computer to me! Tech hardware makers ARM claim that their powerful new Cortex-A72 processor (due to be launched at some point in 2016) is going to enable smartphones to complete a range of tasks that were previously limited to computers. ARM executive Ian Ferguson also stated that "we [ARM] think the phone is becoming the primary computer platform". ARM is not the only big company that thinks this way - in Facebook's 2012 Q4 report, for the first time in the companies history, mobile usage exceeded desktop usage. Following this, in early 2013, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that Facebook is no longer a web company and rather a mobile company.
While it is difficult to predict what the future of desktop computing will look like, a likely contender is a computer dock powered entirely by a detachable smartphone. In 2011, Motorola released a smartphone called the Atrix 4G. The phone came with a laptop docking accessory - allowing people to power a small laptop when the phone was docked. The OS was pretty basic, and the device was not very powerful, as a result it did not achieve much success.
The Motorola Atrix 4G
More recently, Asus displayed a demo of the new Transformer Book V - also using a laptop docking configuration. However, the Transformer Book V differs as it allows users to swap seamlessly between the Windows 8.1 OS and an Android smartphone OS. The device is expected to launch at some point in 2016. Samsung has also recently patented a similar laptop/smartphone-style device. Other smartphone and technology companies have been following suit with similar devices in the works. All of these devices have the characteristics of a mobile device, this means that they could easily use apps in place of websites. While it will be a number of years before these devices can match the performance of modern desktop computers, it is an indicator of the future of desktop computing.
The Asus Transformer Book V
Will This Mean I Need An App For Everything?
My iPhone home screen is just one page of apps, all are arranged neatly into folders. I delete any app that I don't need or use. So for people like me, the idea of requiring an app on the home screen for everything I currently do on websites is spine-tingling. Enter app streaming, in mid-2015, Google acquired a mobile app streaming start-up called Agawi. To put it simply, Agawi is like Youtube for apps, instead of downloading the app and then using it, you can stream the app directly to your smartphone without installing it on your device. While Google has not officially addressed their intentions with Agawi, experts speculate that Google will use the platform to make the web more app-like. Through Agawi, websites could be replaced by apps, while still maintaining the search flexibility that comes with web searching services like Google. The web would likely act in a similar manner when searching on platforms like Google, however, instead of clicking a link to open a website, you would click a link to directly stream an app to your device. Some apps such as Pinterest and Youtube are already doing this from search engines, however, they are not streaming the app, they are simply opening the app (provided it is installed on your device).
Just Waiting On The Tech
The majority of the things that may stop apps from replacing websites simply relate back to where tech is at the moment. While streaming apps is an innovative concept, apps are always larger than websites in size. As a result, unless you have an absurdly large (and expensive) data package, you probably only download apps when you are connected to wi-fi. However, this is not so much of an issue, major cities are constantly introducing free wi-fi hotspots and phone data packages get cheaper and more generous every single year. Another tech based problem is the fact that apps are very expensive to get developed. Comparatively, ten years ago websites were absurdly expensive to get developed, in 2016 you can build a professional website on drag and drop services like Squarespace for $8 a month. As tech advances, apps could very likely become equally cheap to build. It is difficult to predict when apps will start replacing websites, however, once Google implements Agawi, the internet will likely be in an awkward phase where it is a 50/50 split of apps and websites. While websites might not die out anytime soon, it is certainly something that we should be looking out for in the coming years.