“Instead of couch potatoes you’ll have app-potatoes,” predicted Giacomo Mazzone, head of institutional relations for the European Broadcasting Union.

“I have to admit the ‘open’ Web is certainly changing—just ask the 750 million people on the anti-Web, also known as Facebook,” noted David Ellis, director of communication studies at York University.

There is disagreement on whether the browser-based Web will survive. Technology consultant and author Stowe Boyd expects it will be replaced by the app-based model of Web access. “Platform companies—especially Apple and Google—are moving to new meta-architecture principles, such as tablets, touch, and gestural interfaces, ubiquitous connectivity, and social networking,” he noted. “These are being baked into the core platforms.”

William Schrader, a consultant and founder of PSINet, said, “The Web and the apps will be one and the same. The app, if accessed by a large screen (formerly known as a computer) will automatically slide into a large-screen mode to allow more advertising and ease of reading, navigation, and additional information. The webpage will sense when the user leaves the computer and transfer the same information to the departing user’s smartphone (or other device).”

“The experience when you visit a webpage and the experience when using an app will converge, possibly to the point where there is little practical difference,” argued Mark Watson, senior engineer for Netflix.

Adds Rob Scott, chief technology officer for Nokia: “Once HTML5 browsers and fully capable Web runtimes are in place on the common Kindle through iPhone, the Web app will begin replacing native apps.”

Researcher Brian Trammell of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology said, “The Web is already moving toward a delivery platform for AJAX/Javascript/Flash ‘apps’ masquerading as websites.

Tony Smith of the Open Source Developers Club in Melbourne, Australia said as much: “Both will continue to grow in ways that are impossible for most to imagine…. Apps are generally better for narrowly defined repetitive tasks, especially where your needs can be narrowed by your location, time, etc. The Web will remain better for asynchronous exploring and continue its gateway role.”

Many anonymous responders challenged the structure of the apps-Web question. Among their arguments: The world ahead is not either apps or the Web. A more hybrid world is likely. Moreover, the tussle between controlled content and user experiences on the one hand and openness on the other hand will play out in other ways.


Janna Quitney Anderson, Elon University

Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

March 23, 2012