File Under: HTML5, Web Basics

Enough With the Apps Already

I never know if one of my blog posts is going to take off. Most don’t. But yesterday’s post about apps not being the future probably set some kind of record. It got a lot of links and a lot of reads.

Had I known it was going to get so much attention I would have spelled out exactly what I meant by app. The question came up e-mailing with Brent Simmons who wrote a post about my post yesterday. I didn’t understand the confusion until I did a little back and forth with him.

I said this: “I mean app as in ‘there’s an app for that.’”

I’m talking about the newspaper or magazine that, when you click on a link to go to one of their articles, puts up an interstitial telling you that you could read the article in their app instead. Initially, I installed one or two of these. The other day I installed a big comprehensive one from Google. Flipboard is the original one of these reading environments that is not the web. The New York Times has a slow, buggy, huge app for reading their news.

Now don’t get me wrong; there’s no reason they shouldn’t produce these apps. Go ahead. They have every right. But I also have every right not to use them. And if they insist, as the New York Post does (its content isn’t available for iPad users on any other terms) I can just skip their content altogether (which in the case of the Post, who gives away their paper at subway entrances in NYC and is an awful Murdoch trash rag that would be an insult to dead fish to be wrapped in it, feels just right).

If that’s all there was to it, I probably never would have written this piece. But last week I read about a speech given at LeWeb in Paris by George Colony of Forrester Research, that got a lot of coverage. He said the web is over, and apps are the future. (BTW, when you search for George Colony on Google they’re so sure you meant George Clooney they don’t even offer the choice of George Colony.)

It was that speech, plus Google’s app, plus a well-timed interstitial that got me thinking: Why is it that I find this concept of the future so repulsive?

I wrote five pieces yesterday. I guess that was the best one. Sure hit a nerve. A lot of people agree. Enough with the apps already.

I think the publishers like the idea because it offers hope of a new paywall, an electronic one. My guess is that it’s a hope in vain.

Tablets are almost ideal reading environments. I don’t think, as some developers do, that the iPad is the ultimate. I think it’s heavy and cold, and makes my arm fall asleep when I read lying down. I think the software is a glitchy. Like great movies, great computer experiences are all about suspension of disbelief. If I forget I’m reading on an iPad and get consumed by the story, then the technology is working perfectly. The iPad experience is good, but there’s still a way to go. And all this business about apps is a real spoiler for suspension of disbelief. I’m clicking a link, expecting to learn more about what I was reading (that was certainly the author’s intent) but instead I get an ad for an app. If I seriously consider it, I’ve lost my train of thought. If I actually take the detour and install it, I’ve lost big time. The best way to minimize the loss is hit the Back button and skip it. But that’s a loss too. I clicked the link for a reason. And that was thwarted.

I’d be happy with a pref that says to all websites “I’m never going to install your app, so please don’t bother with the pitch.” Sort of like a No Solicitors sign on the front door of my house (which I don’t have; it’s too rude to people who are not solicitors).

BTW, I wrote a piece a month ago about Google’s search website on the iPad and how awful it is. They made it even worse. Now if you click on the Classic link at the bottom of the page you lose your search string and have to enter it again. At least in the past when you clicked Classic, after scrolling to the bottom of the page, you got the search results you were looking at in a more compact form.

To anyone from Microsoft who may be reading this far, here’s a chance to get a bunch of iPad users. Make Bing work exactly like Google on the desktop, on the iPad. Or offer it as an option. I will use your search engine from now on on the iPad if you do that. Google is deliberately screwing their iPad users. Now you guys can be the heroes.

All of this is of course IMHO, as if that needs to be said. But when there are a bunch of new Apple zealots reading stuff here calling me “some people” or “this guy” in my own blog, well it needs to be said.

Also, I let comments run more or less rampant in the last post. It got to be too much to moderate them all. Even so, if a comment required my approval and it was idiotic or unnecessary (How many times do we need to hear that there are things called intents?) I just let it sit there unapproved. You don’t have a right to place your ideas here. If I’m not reading your book-length comment, why should I impose it on my readers?

This post first appeared on Scripting News.

Dave Winer, a visiting scholar at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software. A former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, Dave won the Wired Tech Renegade award in 2001.
Follow @davewiner on Twitter.