Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rethinking the App Model

The difference between Hacker News and this blog is that tomorrow, you're going to visit Hacker News, but you're not likely to visit this blog.

This distinction does not exist in mobile apps.


Mobile apps are downloaded and installed in an elaborate multi-step process. They're backed up and restored when you get a new phone. No effort is spared to make sure they stick around forever. Each app is treated like a box of childhood photos, a permanent possession.

What you get is endless screens of apps, quickly sampled, never discarded.

Your browser is aware of this distinction. There are websites you visit often - Gmail, Facebook, Hacker News. Maybe you have them bookmarked, but if not they autocomplete in your browser after you hit the first key. Assets and Javascript are cached. Fresh content gets loaded from the server. Sites you visit less often eventually fall out of the asset cache and the autocomplete list.

Mobile apps should move toward the browser model. You hear about something new. A shell of the app is installed and downloaded in one click. Assets are lazy loaded. Each app joins an unforgiving LIFO queue that wipes them out when they're not used for a while. You can pin apps that you want to stick around forever.


The big winners in mobile apps tend to be the companies that first won on the web: Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Pinterest, and so on. A great website can win because every other site is only one click away.

Websites are easy to get to, and easy to leave. In contrast, mobile apps are hard to get to and hard to leave. They shouldn't be.

1 comment:

Alessandro said...

So you're talking of webapps. But it's not to be excluded that entering a (web)app via browser might prompt a login (username+password) as well. But we've to consider that downloading/installing apps on the mobile device is not only about increased performance, but it's also a matter of security.

The Apple Appstore, as well as Google Play, requires the users to sign-in and associate their profiles to personal invoice informations. Prompting the password submission every time before downloading apps it guarantees there's a human behind and it adds a security step which can avoid random downloads and can avoid further privacy concerns (CC numbers, etc.) if the phone/tablet is stolen.

Yes, the login can be automatic as much as when we try to check Gmail or Facebook, but there still is the danger of login data stealing (through phishing, malicious websites, unprotected wifi, ecc). Risks that through the Appstore are being reduced.