Why didn't the web disrupt mobile, you ask?


Here is my answer.

There is a very long post at Substack, that tries to answer why the World Wide Web replaced native programs installed and running locally on desktop computers, but not on mobile ones, that is smartphones and tablets.

The post makes long, enthralling comparisons between the evolution and survival strategies of the web and those of life on Earth. Here are some quotes, to give an idea of the whole thing:

Why didn’t the web disrupt mobile?

“[When smartphones arrived], the web’s network advantage had evaporated. The iPhone was designed for a world that included the web. The web was not designed for a world that included the iPhone.”

“The web had to adapt, but it had an entrenched set of business models, cost structures, technical assumptions, and standards processes. All of these things are painful to reform.”

“There was an additional sociotechnical challenge: the web is a standards-based ecosystem.”

Why didn't the web disrupt mobile, you ask? /img/mobile-ate-the-world.jpg

My simpler, or more synthetic answer

I mostly agree with the analyses and conclusions of that post, but maybe I can offer a simpler, much shorter explanation of why the World Wide Web ruled and still somehow rules desktop computing, but not smartphones, that are the domain of “apps”. Here it is, in just three bullets:

  • the World Wide Web was, or at least seemed before the GAFAM gained full force, much harder to monopolize, monetize and generally control. Because, for brevity, it “just happened”, taking many corporations and governments by surprise
  • as soon technology allowed to produce portable terminals for the masses that required completely new software stacks, businesses said “great, let’s lock and fragment this new thing right away, before it goes its own, more open way”
  • people screwed themselves by ignorance and convenience:
    • Everybody was just happy to finally have something where, as the post says, “Log-in disappeared completely”, implications be damned
    • huge backward steps like WhatsApp, that sucks in so many ways you can’t count them succeeded, simply because they spare people from entering separate account names for their contacts, in the most rude, stupidest way

Does this explanation make sense? Please let me know, via email or Twitter!

Image sources: screenshots from Mobile is Eating the World (2016.

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