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Fred Wilson and John Lilly on The Mobile Web

Stashed in: Mobile!, Web Development, @fredwilson, Awesome, Greylock, Mobile Web!, @johnolilly

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Fred Wilson asks from his mobile phone:

1) would a mobile web that is open and interactive like the web be preferable to the app ecosystem we now have on mobile? And if so, why?

2) what technologies, apps, and services do we need to get there?

3) are there any obvious investments that one should make to help jump start the mobile web?

My responses:

1. Yes, an open interactive mobile web would unleash a lot of new applications. Tumblr and Pinterest suggest that new applications are possible and preferable on Mobile Web.

2. What we need is better understanding of HTML5 on mobile form factors. There's still so much to learn.

3. Obvious investments? No. But any company that's trying to build an innovative Mobile Web application should be considered carefully.

John Lilly says Apple and Google are incentivized to not have an open mobile Web:

Apple and Google are doubling down, and doubling down again, on native apps. They’ve both built browsers for exposing the web to users, but they’re somewhat half-hearted reflections of browsers on the desktop, but smaller and wonkier. The structural issue is that neither Apple or Google is really incented to make a great, new, completely innovative browser experience that can deal with identity, that can be a great offline experience, that can use sensors — that can reinvent. They’re not incented because of this arms (and dollars) race around the native app ecosystem they’ve each built.

In my view, with mobile browsers the way they are, there’s not yet an opportunity to build really big, robust mobile web properties that are amazing. You’ll tend to get the reflection of the desktop web — most in the in-app browsers that you find in apps like Twitter, etc.

I believe there can be great mobile open web apps, even without good mobile browsers.

We just need to get more creative with the medium.

John Lilly adds:

Tim Wu’s excellent book, The Master Switch. What Wu argued is that technology tends to start closed, then open up, then close down again around proprietary networks of distribution. And he gave example after example of that — movies, telephone, radio, television. Importantly, not the web.

It feels like we now have the proprietary networks of distribution with iOS and Android.

So the Mobile Web might be closed before it ever has an opportunity to open.

This is probably an overly glib summarization of the problem here, but I'm going for it anyways.  It seems like this argument is equivocal to arguing that back in the day, a downloadble .exe file you run on your desktop would have been much more advantageous than using a web browser to surf a specific site on the web, because it's much more efficient.  The mobile web _has_ to win out eventually for all but the most resource-dependent applications.  

Actually, I like the analogy of .exe files being comparable to mobile apps today.

The mobile web has something neither of them have: discoverability. Google and Bing!

And links. Mobile apps can't link to each other because they're each their own little world. That has advantages at times, but heterogeneity is usually better. It's hard for any one app to be the everything to anyone -- unless that app can use the web ;)

I think Dave is right that in the long run native wins for apps that would require way to much I/O to function purely as a web site, like WoW and other MMORPGs. In the short run, it also wins on mobile for features that browsers can't yet access, such as the accelerometer and, until recently, the iPhone camera roll. But over time that changes and the web and open standards win in more and more use cases, just as we've seen Flash slowly cede territory to HTML for years.

That's an excellent point about links.

Apps will never have links because they never want you to leave the app.

Whereas The Web is perfectly content to have you click from site to site.

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