Remember the original iPhone from 2007? Guess what it did not have? A camera. A headphone jack. A 3G internet connection. That’s hard to believe when today’s smartphones have cameras that rival entry-level DSLRs, and CPUs benchmark well against today’s traditional PC notebooks.
One more thing was missing from the original iPhone and one day it might make a comeback. Apps. The only apps available on the first iPhone came from Apple. The iTunes App Store for iPhone did not open until the summer of 2008. Why didn’t Apple simply stick with the browser and allow all so-called applications to be web-based?
The answer to that question is rather straightforward. Thanks to how slow the internet really is, native applications– apps designed to run on iOS or Android OS or whatever– typically perform better than browser-based applications. It’s why the Mac’s apps are native to macOS Sierra (and previous generations of OS X) rather than simply living in a browser window. It’s all about performance and native apps are faster and more secure than most browser-based so-called apps could ever be.
Here’s the problem. Forever is a long time. A few decades ago I worked for an internet service provider which leased a T-1 line which worked well for about 5,000 dial-up customers. What’s a T-1? It’s an internet connection from the phone company that runs at 1.544-Mbits per second. That’s 1.5. Megabits.
Today, my local cable TV provider has multiple tiers that start at around 14-Mbits per second. I use 100-Mbits at home and I’m considering a bump to 300-Mbits because Netflix. Also because the entire Mincey family seems to enjoy streaming music and video at the same time. Native apps on Macs and iPhones are there because they perform better and faster than using a web browser.
Try using Google Maps in Safari on your Mac, then use Apple’s own built-in Mac Maps app. Native apps win.
What If Speed
What if access to the internet actually rivaled the performance of native apps on our Macs and iPhones? Is it possible we could being using the browser more and native applications less? There are advantages and disadvantages to that scenario and questions that remain unanswered.
- How much would ultra high speed cost?
- How would app developers get paid?
- Are device apps more secure than web apps?
- What’s the ‘tipping point’ for internet speed?
- What happens to the native app industry?
See? Any switch from native apps to web-based apps and utilities would not happen overnight because there are economic issues at play. Still, who is going to complain if the internet gets so fast it could rival performance of native apps?
The major browser makers continue to improve their wares and have banned together to form WebAssembly, a low level programming language for in-browser, client-side scripting. In other words, a much, much faster browser which could execute code coming in from the internet far faster. Who is involved? Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla (Firefox).
There is a reality that must be addressed before anyone considers ditching native applications for web-based or browser-based apps, and it all boils down to the same issue it’s always been.
Performance. And physics.
Is it probable that even with gigabit internet speeds that games would perform as well over the internetas they do in native iPhone applications? What kind of internet access speeds would make that even possible?
Instead, what all of us want is the multi-faceted solution; faster internet speeds, and faster native applications. It’s not binary; one or the other. It’s what we’re getting now, and it’s what we’ll get in the future, but it’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder how fast applications could load and run if the internet delivered apps and data at the speed of light.