Fifteen years ago I was a programmer on Wall Street. Times were good, it was the boom economy and Fidelity Investments where I worked was flush with cash as the Dow just hit 4,000 for the first time. (Yes you read that right.) I had a great office in the (now gone), World Trade Center looking at the river and I coded client server applications all day. We were waiting for the conversion from 16 bit to 32 bit with the arrival of Windows 95. Except for arguing with my annoying co-worker Ronald who wanted to write his own grid (I wanted to buy a grid, so it is funny that 15 years later I work at a component company), life was good. I was a good programmer and I use to dream of being CTO of Fidelity Investments one day.
Then one day one of my buddies and I went to an event for IT professionals hosted by Netscape. It was about the Internet, the browser, and this new Java thing. At the session, they threw my entire 3-tier, client-server world upside down. “Dude they are talking about going back to the days of Rumba dumb terminal” my friend said to me. The speaker kept saying that the browser is going to be ubiquitous. (I had to look up ubiquitous when I got home.) A very tall guy from Sun said that “The Network is the Computer.”
I went home that night and canceled my AOL account and joined pipeline.net, an ISP that allowed you to surf the “real” web with Netscape Navigator 1.0 via dialup. Over the next few weeks I took a class on Java and taught myself HTML and put up a web page. (Full disclosure, I abused the <Blink> tag. Sorry, I know some of you now think lesser of me.) Later that year when Fidelity did not embrace the Internet fast enough for me, I quit and stared my own business to focus on “the internet and databases.”
Somewhere around 1998, the guy from Netscape was right, the browser was ubiquitous. Every Super Bowl ad had a “www'” at the bottom as did every magazine ad. HTML ruled the world. It continues to rule the world to this day. It is hard to believe that HTML is only on version 4.
Then came the iPhone. Web pages on the small screen just don’t work well. Enter the world of applications or apps. So today, instead of web pages, we interact with the sites we like with Apps. Use Facebook on the web? Download the App. Need a currency converter, weather notification, even news and sports scores, there is an app for those as well. No longer do you need to go to a web page, you are using a native application on the device you are using. This will only proliferate with the iPad and rumored Google gPad.
I have never been a believer of 100% “The Network is the Computer” or “back to dumb terminal” browser only computing. Hardware is too fast and too cheap to not take advantage of local graphics APIs, local memory, and even local storage for caching and backup. Why code to the least common dominator? Why should you have “Google docs” just in a browser when you can take advantage of the local device for spell check, rendering, and cache? A hybrid approach is the best bet, with the ultimate storage in the cloud, but the application will store a cached version locally and also have a local App that takes advantage of the local API and rendering engine. This is what all my apps on my Android phone do now, from TripIt to Facebook to a simple currency converter (which I can use offline).
HTML and the web page dominance is now over. A whole generation of users are growing up using devices and interacting with the internet only via Apps. Apps are our future; we are now living in the App Economy, as Business Week puts it.
Apps are the new HTML.