Mobile Apps Bringing the End of the World Wide Web as We Know It

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2014-04-10 Print this article Print

So how do you do this on a wearable device, such as smart glasses or a smartwatch? I believe the default behavior will be via a virtual assistant, such as Google Now on the Android Wear devices, Siri on the rumored and expected Apple “iWatch,” and inevitably Cortana on some easily imaginable Microsoft smartwatch.

So much of what we do on desktops with Web browsing and on smartphones with apps will be accomplished with a simple voice request on wearable devices.

This brings us to the next trend that will erode use of the Web: virtual assistants. Instead of Googling questions when we want information, choosing a site from the search results, and then getting our answer from the site, the wearable revolution will coincide with virtual assistants. Instead of a long list of search results, which represent options, virtual assistants will simply try to provide answers—or media—or agency.

Regarding media, we might say: “Play 'Happy' by Pharrell Williams” and the song will play. No surfing, no apps.

Regarding agency, we might say: “Move my meeting from Tuesday to Wednesday.” No online calendar site, no mobile calendar app.

There’s no reason to believe virtual assistants won’t be very good at it and that people won’t adapt to these new behaviors.

All the fears and worries about mobile apps should be compounded with the wearable and virtual assistant trends.

If Google, Apple and Microsoft as leaders of their respective mobile app ecosystems have too much control (compared with the open Web), they’ll have vastly more control when their respective virtual assistant products are spoon-feeding us answers and favoring their own solutions for doing things for us—for example, their own music services or their own calendar services.

That’s why all this doom-and-gloom over the fate of the open Web is misplaced. What the mobile adoption and mobile app usage trends are doing to the open Web is nothing compared to what the wearable and virtual assistant trends will do.

Of course, there’s no panic in the streets of this future I’m describing and mainly because hardly anyone believes it.

People—even tech pundits—talk as if the wearable computing movement might be a fad and as if the virtual assistant applications are little more than a gimmicky parlor trick.

But buy a time machine on Craigslist, go back in time 10 years and try to convince the world that people would be replacing PCs with smartphones and tablets and that cheap little apps would be displacing Web surfing. Nobody would believe that, either.

I believe the wearable and virtual assistant trends are very real and very likely to cause a profound change in how people communicate and interact with information.

Of course, the Web will be with us forever. But the trend away from the Web for the masses will surely be accelerated beyond what’s happening with mobile apps once the wearable and virtual assistant trends take hold and then accelerate over the coming years.


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