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Atwood's flawed assessment of the strengths of mobile app vs web


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I don't think there's a clear winner, only pros and cons. But apps will always need websites, if for nothing else other than a source of data, as a mothership to phone home to, and a place to host the application downloads for various devices.

-- Jeff Atwood. Coding Horror: Will Apps Kill Websites?

Agreed! There are probably no interesting apps, other than a few single player games, which don't make use of a web service. I don't think anyone will disagree with that. But in his actual analysis of the relative strengths of NaCl vs web, Atwood fumbles:

1) They can be faster.

Um, ok. It's true that apps don't need the html/css/js that a browser would. But apps DO obviously still need the image/video files, and of course servers can't hit the datastore any faster just because the client is an app. So it seems to me like this applies mainly to sites where the amount of time it takes to transfer the markup is significant compared to the time it takes to hit the database, parse the results, and also to serve the media files. It would seem to me that this is probably not the case on Tumblr, YouTube, or even Facebook (where according to a quick test I just did on the home page, images are only 30% of data but 78% of http requests -- obviously images would be a higher percentage on photo album pages).

2) They use simple, native UI controls.

Sure, if being constrained by the iPhone SDK is a huge plus, then this surely is a huge plus. But a good mobile web developer could implement almost any interface that is possible with an app.

3) They make better use of screen space.

Compared to what? A website that was never designed for mobile? This makes no sense. Anything an app can do which doesn't require access to device internals (like filesystem, accelerometer, etc) a website can also do.

4) They work better on the go and even offline.

This uncompelling argument grows increasingly irrelevant with each passing year. Welcome to 2012 bro. Who tries to use Facebook when they don't have any signal? Sure, Angry Birds will work offline, but network coverage is getting better all the time, and most of the things you want to do with your phone require a connection.

Here's the one and only clear advantage that mobile apps have in the general case: they can request access to hardware resources that a web browser may not. End of story.

If you need access to the accelerometer or some other hardware resource, NaCl is the clear winner. But there are really no other advantages to apps that apply in the general case. It is the web which evolved to serve the lowest common denominator use case.

In the end, advancements in mobile browsers will lead to apps being used primarily in cases where this hardware access is important to the app's functionality. This same story has already played out on desktop, and we're seeing it play out again on mobile.

He makes a great argument for Angry Birds to be a mobile app.

But Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, 9gag, and Reddit would be nowhere without the ability to discover and consume content on the Web.

Content is king. Would the otherwise slow and crashy Facebook mobile app have 500 million users without awesome content? No way.

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