a companion discussion area for blog.codinghorror.com

App-pocalypse Now


#1

I'm getting pretty sick of being nagged to install your damn apps.

XKCD helpfully translates:


This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2014/02/app-pocalypse-now.html

#2

Couldn’t agree with you more.

One way around this problem is to use a mobile device (strictly) that is not supported majorly. I have a Windows phone and the app market is pretty weak. As a result the browser is my go to 75% of the time.


#3

If there ends up being an explosion of new computing devices, many of them incompatible with one another, then it would be 1978 all over again… I remember that time, when I was first discovering computers as a kid, and there was a bewildering variety coming out all at once: the Commodore Pet, the Radio Shack TRS-80, the Apple II, the Exidy Sorcerer, the CompuColor II, the SOL-20, the Ohio Scientific, the APF Imagination Machine, the various S-100 bus CP/M platforms, and so on.


#4

However, every time web sites are used in place of apps (or more accurately, interpreted JS/HTML/CSS is used in place of native code), it fails. Facebook, formerly the prime example of living on the web (no iPad app, iPhone and Android apps powered by HTML) gave up and went native ages ago.

The experience of using web sites - instead of something tailored for the platform you’re using - is a poor one for a user. As a user, I really don’t care about developer time, and as a developer I have to understand that users aren’t going to care about my time. Users care about a product that works for them. A bad app may be inferior to the web, but a decent app is almost always leaps and bound beyond the web for two very simple reasons - 1) performance, and 2) user interface. Performance for an interpreted web site will always lag a compiled native app by definition (it always has at least one more abstraction layer to cross), and the UI of such a cross-platform system never matches a native interface (find me a Java program that actually fools you into thinking it’s native - I’ll wait). The developer gains because they don’t have to support as much, but the user loses, and with a million apps they have plenty of options to walk.

Meanwhile, we now have Microsoft creating the worst of both worlds in a desperate attempt to keep Windows Phone afloat - “apps” which are actually repackaged web sites (see Redfin et al). I think we can at least agree that that is a terrible idea.


#5

One more point i want to add
The few apps which are creative , innovative and bringing refreshment in the functionality of the app are blatantly copied by others . So it should be checked by the Apple and Google .


#6

“Why are they giving away free Big Macs just to get people to install this thing?”

Oh, I can answer you that one. They’re buying an ad on your homescreen.


#7

I’m sorry, but I fail to find the differences between mobile apps and native desktop applications. The latter being used when restricted system resources are needed, such as hardware. So I can see why I need an app when the software needs to utilize the camera, an accelerometer , or the GPS. I hope to see the same movement that we see on the PC adopted in the mobile eco-system: more local resources will be available from the browser with a standardized protocol (geo location is getting there), and native apps that don’t use such resources will migrate to the web, exactly the same way it happened on the PC (e.g. I use Office web apps much more than I use the native application).


#8

It’s even worse when you have a look at all those SmartTV devices. Each and every vendor has its own eco system and app store with basically websites as apps. Some vendors allow you a browser on their hardware. Many don’t. The apps are most of the time are hard to use even though they target a special platform with a known display resolution. The stores and widget or app formats are not compatible but are websites that use the native DRM solution the vendor latched on that platform. Other than that they’re big screen media query pages with the same javascript keyboard support hassles the browsers nowadays have.

It’s mobile all again but with big screens, more silos, older browsers less hardware and much less apps. And don’t you dare to switch tv vendors and want that same VOD service as an app again. It’s as when Linux users want to watch videos online without silverlight. Good luck.


#9

“Why the hell are we building an app in the first place?”

Well, in my days working for an agency that built a bunch of mobile apps, I can tell you that if you have to ask that question, the answer is almost always “because the marketing department have enough budget to build it, and they think it will be cool”.

Every app I built that had no real purpose to exist, it was the client’s marketing department commissioning it, and it was for marketing purposes, not intended to serve any useful technical purpose or bring any genuine useful value.

Basically, they were paying (and paying tens of thousands of dollars) to be able to put up those “We have an app! Want to download it??” messages in the belief that it made them look cool, modern, with-it, etc.


#10

“When you buy an app, you don’t really know what you’re going to get.”

One advantage of the Windows Phone app store is that developers can offer a trial experience. The purpose is to give the user an opportunity to try your app before they commit to buying it.


#11

The good news is that CSS media queries are making it easier to deliver an optimized mobile experience without forcing everybody to use apps.

Unfortunately it looks like Discourse, Stack Exchange, and this very blog still don’t have responsive designs, but as more sites implement responsive designs we’ll hopefully see less of this app-crapp.

Far too many websites produce apps that do little more than show web content in a different UI. IMO, apps should be reserved for functionality that can’t be easily replicated in the browser and isn’t at its core a web functionality: interfacing with the camera, GPS, or gyro; setting reminders or sending notifications; and other things like that. If a website can do it, an app shouldn’t be necessary.


#12

My 0.02:

I wish my phone let me throw away the pre-installed apps without having to root it.

And maybe http://softwarerecs.stackexchange.com helps a little findimng the decent apps among the rubble. I’m fairly new to smartphones and it’s a pita to find the ‘right’ app for my purposes.


#13

Warning: contains cynicism.

I applaud the article, Jeff, and mainly agree, but I’m not sure why this is all so surprising. We the people demanded all these things - isn’t this what we wanted?

The whole point of app stores is (and always was) to create walled gardens & fragmented experiences. You don’t see Apple going ‘ok, maybe we should make everything open & available’. You don’t see Apple users going ‘oh, you can get that app on your Android too? Great!’. Their business model hinges on hooked fans and consumers/businesses being wedded to the iOS platform. Heck, Microsoft only started theirs (late) because they can see $$$. Captive market on proprietary hardware that has to rent my stuff year on year? Yes please, where do I sign!

As for apps that are mostly just crappy renderings of web pages, well again, that’s fragmentation for you. Why pay over the odds for four, possibly more, native development teams all creating the same UI widgets and tie yourself to a whole bunch of platforms, when everything can be done badly (but usable enough!) in HTML5? Now your crappy web experience can turn up everywhere!

Why are we surprised that most apps suck? Everyone has been told ‘you, my son, go make an app! there’s gold in them thar Angry Birds’ and in truth, most people are awful programmers, awful designers, and even worse customer service people. This is akin to back when people suddenly could make web pages: ‘oh, look at my site on Geocities’ and it’s an abomination primarily in pink…

Free to download, free to play, free to use, there’s no such thing as a free lunch - the result? Drowning in thousands of mediocre identical apps all trying to extort or scam you. The world wide web already did apps better, with better search engines to find them, and no need to extort the user when you click on a link. The worst you might get are adverts, and there are browser add-ons for that.

It’s hard not to argue that the app markets just aren’t very mature and everyone is trying to cash in while they can. There might be diamonds in all that muck, but it’s not worth wading through to find them. I’ll be using my phone for… phone calls.


#14

Ledge Finder app. Funny.


#15

The app stores are like Windows circa 1997, a million useless apps full of ads, scams and spyware targeting kids and semi-luddites. There are of course a few dozen useful apps as well.


#16

If a platform is so easy that any nitwit could develop an app for it, soon enough you’ll have a platform full of apps developed by nitwits.

And another reason for the pointless apps (besides the marketoids David Carson mentions) is having your site/service listed in the app store at all.


#17

‘Apps’ are just a reinvention of ordinary applications, and carry the same problems you describe nicely here. Websites ‘apps’ are just the same. I see no distinction here. The underlying problem is the very notion of ‘applications’. It’s a useful computing concept, but not a useful human concept.

To quote Don Norman from “The Invisible Computer: why good products can fail, the personal computer is so complex, and information appliances are the solution.” (1999)

Applications: what a terrible term. What a terrible concept. Applications have little to do with the tasks that people are attempting to accomplish. Look. We don’t do word processing; we write letters, or memos, or reports, or notes to ourselves.

Activity-Based Computing, which has been researched since the 80s at Xerox PARC, might be able to tackle the core problem:
http://whathecode.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/activity-based-computing/


#18

It’s curious Joshua Ochs used the example of the native Facebook app, since that specific app was on my mind when I saw this article – I’d uninstalled it earlier today, in fact, and I thought it was the very model of a stupid app that does the same thing as the web site, only worse. It was such a resource hog that it was pre-empting telephone calls while automatically syncing in the background. And for all that trouble, it was faster to use my smartphone’s browser.


#19

Luckily there are still apps that are truly free. Free apps with no advertisements, no in-app purchases, no cross-selling, not branded, and fully functional (or as fully as the developer intended).

This paradigm called “freeware” still exists. It’s good to know that there are still people who just build something for fun or out of interest, make it work good, and release it for absolutely free. That’s what a free app is supposed to be: free.

I detest apps that pretend to be free. Especially games. Oooh, games. In-app purchases there is just fancy wording for “pay to win”, or i.o.w. cheating. In some games however, it’s not pay to cheat, it’s just pay to play. Some games are just unplayable without those pesky in-app purchases. See the new Dungeons & Dragons games for Android. Uhhhgg.

Where did the time go that apps are simply accompanied by a BLOODY TRIAL? (or in the case of a game, a BLOODY DEMO). Noone will think badly of your app/game if it is a trial/demo and this is clearly communicated.

Costly add-ons then?.. Hm, not sure. Well, as long as the app by itself is vaguely usable, I suppose folks might appreciate that and buy an addon or two, even if just out of appreciation. But here again, if the app without addons is useless, the app is useless.


#20

Why don’t you have any social buttons to note the articles, jeff?
i would like to pin this interesting article in my g+