Within a few short years we’ve gone through browsing on the desktop to spending countless hours on our phones. Despite all the negativity of spending too much time with a mobile device, I don’t mind it. I’d argue that having a phone made us more social, and it has certainly enabled faster access to information.
Think of the convenience of paying with a mobile device, or taking photos and instantly sharing them with the loved ones, how cool is that? Besides, everyone with a device can now find answers to their questions, learn something new, watch something fun, or even translate a conversation into a different language, in near real-time. It is incredible what we can accomplish.
That said, the mobile ecosystem is frustratingly imperfect. I am iPhone fanboy when it comes to the industrial design and their user-experience, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to try other platforms. Android has some potential, and believe it or not, Windows phone is looking more and more attractive every day. Unfortunately, I cannot easily switch between devices, primarily because the experience on them is so dramatically different. Each platform has its own marketplace for apps and it’s own set of constraints, and that’s a problem for all of us.
Developing for mobile is enormously difficult. Objective-C is a nightmare, Android and Windows aren’t much better. The complexity, and existence of multiple platforms means developers are forced to spend a lot of time learning to do things right, which at the end of the day means someone has to pay for all of that learning, and clients do.
There is a reason that app development could easily go into six-figures. Inexperienced devs would offer you work for super cheap, just to get your business, but to get it done they will cut corners and do the bare minimum. There’s a reason why apps that you love, with minor exceptions, took months to design and develop. Perfect user-experience, seamless transitions, rich features and lack of crashes, that doesn’t come for free.
Lots of clients see Path, Uber, Square and other big names apps, and want those done overnight, without realizing that teams of designers and engineers spent months working to get these apps to the level they are at.
In the early days of website development prices were astronomical too because those who could, charged as much as they could get away with. Thousands of people made fortunes by building websites for obscure amounts, and the same is happening in the mobile world today.
Why can’t we change that? The web is already built using fairly simple to learn and powerful languages, and the best part, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are capable of coding in those language. If only we could write our mobile apps on the web and then simply open them form each mobile platform, the costs of development would drop 20x and more importantly, consumers will get a unified experience across any devices.
We are not far away, I think. The world will change because it has to change. Apps in the app store, closed down dev environments, arm-twisting control over the app store. The current environment is unsustainable, too expensive, and it hurts consumers.
It’s unlikely that Apple, Google or Microsoft would push for this open environment, but the users, the builders, we can push for it. We can start building apps in the browser and avoiding the app stores all together. We can learn to use the browser again and save websites to screen as we do on the web every day.
Something has to change. Where do we start?
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