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

NEWS ANALYSIS: Mobile and wearable devices along with the apps that they run are rapidly ending use of the open Web to access information.

The Web celebrated its 25th anniversary on March 11. That’s too young to die, but there’s reason to worry about its survival.

The open Web is in trouble and mobile apps are to blame, according to a rapidly forming consensus among Silicon Valley pundits and prognosticators.

The catalyst for this view is a new report out of Flurry, a mobile analytics company, which found that 86 percent of the time users spend working with a mobile device involves apps—up from 80 percent in the previous year. Only 14 percent of the time is now spent using the open Web, according to the report.

Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz considered this trend alongside the trend away from desktop computing to mobile “computing” (the use of smartphones and tablets). The inescapable conclusion of these two trends, projected into the future, is that people will soon be spending an overwhelming amount of their time using apps and an insignificant fraction surfing the Web with a Web browser of some kind.

Dixon fears that abandonment of the Web will disincentivize investment in Web development, thus contributing further to its demise. This is problematic, according to Dixon, because the open nature of the Web led to experimentation and innovation, whereas the app world is overly controlled by companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft.

It all sounds dire and alarmist. But, in fact, other trends beyond mobile usage and mobile apps lead away from the Web.

The first trend is wearable computing. Wearable devices are, for the most part, not only app-centric like smartphones are, but in most cases can’t and won’t even be capable of providing a Web interface.

One of our first examples of a wearable device, Google Glass, can, in fact, show you Web pages. When a query leads to a dead end, it asks if you want to see the page. But when it shows you a Web page, the experience is so horrible that you’ll vow to never make that mistake again.

Although wearable devices and mobile devices—and desktop devices, for that matter—have different models for presenting an interface for finding and displaying information and also for communication, they each give you a comparable result.

For example, a rudimentary task might be finding out the weather. On a desktop computer, you might type into your browser’s address box. Or you could just type in weather, and if it’s Chrome, Google will show you a “card” with the current weather report for your location. In either case, you’re using a browser to surf the Web and you’re interacting with the product of someone’s Web development efforts.

You could do something similar on a mobile app. But the default behavior is to launch a weather app, which you’ve already set up to know your location.