This week at the library we were handed out iPads and told to just play with them and use them to demonstrate things to people at the branches. So, I took them to heart and have been playing with the iPad for hours in my off time. I spent a lot of time going through Lifehacker looking for fancy iPad apps and experimenting with ways to use it as a convergence device. It has been absolutely illuminating in the way that many of the apps function. Especially Flipboard, which has completely changed the way I see things like Facebook and Twitter. Especially Twitter, where Flipboard transforms it into a magazine. Yes, a Twitter magazine. You will never believe how amazing this is unless you see it for yourself. Seriously, go read that link.
And then, as I’m sitting there reading Flipboard, it hits me all at once. This is a blip on the radar, and will fade like autumn leaves.
The iPad and many other mobile devices have built themselves around the use of platform oriented apps. So, something that works on the iPhone, doesn’t work so hot on the iPad unless you change the scope of it. And something that was developed to run on the iPhone may have to be completely re-written for the Android platform or the Windows platform. We have all these competing visions, where Apple likes to be very controlling about the kinds of apps that they have and Android has this crazy free-for-all market place, but that sometimes they vary from carrier to carrier.
But the reality is that platform based Apps are going to die, and soon.
There are several signs that are the birth pangs of this change.* Let’s start by looking at the Chromebook. This is a netbook that has no operating system whatsoever. It is simply the Google Chrome browser, and nothing else. Google is assuming that all you’ll be doing is going to be online. You won’t need to save documents, because you can do that in Google docs. You won’t need music storage, because you’ll be streaming music over something like the Pandora site or Google’s Cloud Music service. You don’t need to insert DVD’s because you’ll be streaming video over Netflix, or maybe some new service that Google will be offering (like maybe Hulu). Everything in the entire operating system is going to just be web based, and no one will bat an eye at this. Your computer will simply be the terminal by which you access everything.
And this is going to be happening to your phones as well. Mozilla is building a mobile phone that will operate entirely using Firefox. So, just like the Chromebook, you’ll have an entire computer, this time your mobile phone, that will function entirely as a web access point.
Now think about this. With HTML 5, damn near anything is possible in website development. You can build mobile versions of your website that will function entirely as these platform specific apps have done in the past. There will be no need to have an “app store.” You simply bookmark the mobile version of the website you want to go to, and bam, it’s functional across every device that exists. Be that an iPhone, Android, Blackberry (which won’t exist much longer anyway), Windows phone, the Firefox phone… You get the picture. You design the site to function like a mobile app, and it just works.
This is already happening. Apple has been playing bitchy games with the App store, and in an attempt to try to cut down the competition in the eBook arena began charging a 30% charge for ebooks sold over its apps. So, Amazon said “up yours” to Apple, and created an iPad webpage for Kindle. Users who don’t want to give apple a cut of the eBook pie can simply bookmark the Amazon iPad Kindle page, and buy their books directly through there, access them via the cloud reader and download them directly to the iPad app from the Kindle Archive if they wish to read the book offline. Apple never gets a dime. It’s a bullshit workaround, but this is how the world will be soon.
Here’s the wrench in this beautiful plan. Data capping. Every mobile phone company in the U.S., save one, has set their data limits to be a maximum of something like 2 gigabytes of mobile data per month. As PCMag pointed out, you can blow through the entire data cap in 32 minutes on a 4G phone. Now, that’s not even doing anything in particular, that’s just doing your average stuff. Imagine that your entire cellphone existence is online.
This is a completely untenable situation. Either mobile data becomes useful, or you don’t connect to the next wave of the internet unless you’re in a Wi-Fi hotspot. It’s ridiculous. Not to mention that Wi-Fi usage can slow to a crawl, especially in heavy traffic areas like Starbucks. And what about the home lines? Well, there are data caps there too, as ISPs are being run by people who have a competitive stake that makes them want to compress usage of the internet in the first place. Watch too many movies on Netflix, and you wind up getting throttled by your cable company ISP. Yeah.
So, this brings us to loggerheads. The next wave of the internet is about web apps on everything. But the people who control the pipes on which web traffic flows want to squeeze the traffic to a crawl.
Here’s a plan for America. Let’s put people to work building 4G and maybe 5G cell towers, laying fiber optic cable, lighting up dark fiber, and rolling out broadband to everyone as a public utility, a national resource. Let’s encourage development in technology, and not stifle things just because that’s the way it’s always been done. This is the future of communications, even if it’s only the next blip on the radar. But where we’re at right now could kill it in its infancy. Let’s give it a shot, and see where innovation takes us when we give it a great big playground.
It’s the least we can do.
* That line made me want to write this big book of revelations metaphor, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity I chose to forgo it.