Web vs. native redux

Well, last week’s article generated quite a few hits, and even some useful responses. It’s time to respond to the responses — and note one interesting coincidence.

Hacker News

For a few precious hours last Tuesday my article took the coveted top spot on Hacker News. That never lasts long, and I fully expected to be kicked off the front page before the day was over, but the manner my article was demoted was typical for this day and age.

When my article lost the #1 spot it was upstaged by ... wait for it ... yet another JavaScript library (or framework). Even worse, the only thing this library had to say for itself was that it was “faster than React” (or Ember, I can’t remember). Apparently such a statement is enough to propel a framework (or library) to the highest position. Nothing else of note was on the page, except for a few graphs that purported to show how much faster than Ember (or React) it was. Whatever.

This shows web developers’ priorities right now. Thinking about the web on a fundamental level is obviously less important than jumping on yet another framework (or library) bandwagon that will be forgotten within a few months.

Ah, well ... Let’s move on to serious stuff.

Catchy headlines

Two points of criticism were levelled against my article:

  1. There is no web vs. native “war” so we can’t concede defeat.
  2. The news site example (where I said they’d be better off as native apps) is wrong.

Both points are valid — though I feel that to some web developers the web vs. native war is still continuing; and of course they are the ones that want moar frameworks to solve ... well, whatever.

Generally speaking it’s true that I opted for rhetorical flourishes and catchy headlines over solid, sensible, and boring ones, since bold statements attract more readers.

I’m not apologizing, mind you, just explaining. I’m very tired of writing subtle, balanced articles that contain (to my mind) important questions and observations only to see them ignored completely. This year I’m trying a new tactic. I make bold statements in the headlines, attract a lot of visitors, and some of them will read some of what I have to say and think about it. In this day and age that’s the most efficient way of getting your ideas out there. Just ask the news sites.

I doubt if the reactions I treat below would have been written if I’d called my piece “Some observations concerning the emulation of native apps by web apps” or something equally boring.

Since this tactic is so successful I will continue to use it in the future. Fair warning: you’re going to HATE my next piece — and its catchy headline.


Still, my main point, that web apps should not attempt to emulate native apps since they won’t succeed, was generally accepted. In fact, I found only one critical article here. Laurence Dorman disagrees with my point that the web will always play catch-up with native:

I’ll just say that the devices with which we surround ourselves are plenty powerful and only getting more so. The same goes for the amount of freedom we are given to exploit this power.

True, but native capabilities will grow by at least an equal amount in the same time. So catch-up it is and catch-up it will remain.

Even Dorman, in disagreeing, returns to the point of web apps being less of a hassle to users than native ones. That’s true, and it might help a bit in the coming years. Still, it doesn’t prove that web apps should emulate native ones.

In fact, the whole hassle-free quality of the web elicited interesting responses, though a clarification is called for. Chris Wilson stated that I trotted out Scott Jenson’s article to support Benedict Evans’ web vs. native question. That’s not true — or at least, I didn’t mean it that way.

To my mind, Benedict Evans and Scott Jenson are talking about the same phenomenon, but from a different perspective. Benedict Evans looks at it from a business perspective, while Scott Jenson concentrates on the user experience. In an ideal world their approaches would lead to the same answer to the Web or Native question, but I can see situations where the user experience is sacrificed to the (perceived) business needs of the client.

Dion Almaer offers another way of saying the same:

[One anecdote] compared the Web to speed dating whereas apps are a long term relationship. You may have a different plan of attack for the 5 minutes trying to impress someone you have never met vs. interactions once you have created a trusted relationship.

Very true, and it’s in line with what Scott Jenson and Benedict Evans are saying.

The web’s strengths

Jeremy (who continues to write the articles I should have written):

The web’s heritage as a hypertext document sharing system for pure scientific research is often treated as a handicap, something that must be overcome in this age of applications and monetisation. But I see this heritage as a feature, not a bug. It promotes ideals of universal access above individual convenience, creation above consumption, and sharing above financial gain.

I’m not sure we can remove financial gain from the equation, but I agree that the web’s heritage is a strength, and not a weakness. We’ve lost sight of how to capitalise on that strength, though, and have to find our way back home.

So let’s figure out what’s going to be next for the web. Right now I’m thinking its hassle-free quality may be even more important than its reach and URLs.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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