This isn’t about all the silly little time-wasting games for your phone (though there are plenty of those). Nor is it about all the various programs that let you perform useful tasks with your phone or tablet, such as calculators, photo and video editors, and other standalone applications. It’s about all the “apps” that do things you can easily do with your web browser (remember the web? if your phone has apps it certainly has a browser, too). Those of you thinking “I don’t have a smartphone or tablet, so why should I care?” — keep reading. This trend of using proprietary software to access and use information and content that is (or should be) readily available on the web is starting to spill over from phones and tablets into the realm of traditional computers, too.
Apps vs Websites
There are apps for all sorts of things that don’t need to be apps – reference info, just about every newspaper and TV network, weather, movie and restaurant reviews and more. What do they offer that can’t be had on their websites? Usually nothing, or else it is something that is intentionally withheld from the website to coerce folks into using the app. There’s another bunch of apps that do little more than stream audio or video from the web which, again, is easily accomplished with any standard web browser.
Who’s In Control?
I think part of the attraction for content providers has to do with control and metrics. A piece of proprietary software gives the provider total control. While a web browser allows the user some control over appearance (resizing windows, changing font size, filtering graphics), an app gives the user only the exact options its developer chooses, making for tighter control over the “user experience.” An app can also supply much more accurate and detailed feedback to the content provider than a website can.
The app environment also gives the provider more control over multimedia content than might be possible within a web browser. Some providers are afraid of their content being “stolen” (is something missing?); they use apps as a way to avoid less secure but more common file formats and modes of data transport.
All About Advertising
The ability to deliver advertising, or more precisely, the inability of the user to block advertising is probably another factor. In fact, the new-to-USA Spotify music service makes you to install their program to use it, even on a computer, despite the fact that most other music streaming services work in any web browser. Of course Spotify officially supports only Windows and Mac, so they have nothing to offer me. Or do they? It seems there’s a beta version for Linux, so I thought I’d see what it’s all about. Here’s where it gets interesting: their Linux software only works with a premium (paying) account. Why? “As we haven’t found a reliable way to display ads yet, this version is only available to Spotify Premium and Unlimited subscribers.” So, because they can’t figure out how to push ads, I should pay for a subscription, while users of certain operating systems can use it for free? I think not. Groove Shark does essentially the same thing, in any browser, for free.
Forced Browser Choice
Recently I encountered a variation on the theme. Until very recently, Amazon has required that you either use an actual Kindle or their proprietary PC, phone, or tablet software “app” to read the eBooks that they sell. I own a Kindle, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to read my Kindle books on my netbook or laptop. Of course, even though the Kindle e-reader runs Linux, Amazon doesn’t have Kindle software for desktop Linux — only Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Just the other day they released a “Cloud Reader” that would let me read my Kindle books on any device with a web browser. Almost. It actually works only with Chrome and Safari. So while they no longer force their software on you, they do insist that Windows and Linux users install Google’s Chrome browser. Why do they not support the more common and popular Firefox for Linux and Firefox or IE for Windows? They promise “Support for additional browsers coming soon.” We’ll see. Interestingly, the reason they went to a web app was to sidestep the iPad Kindle app and the 30% Apple gets from each book purchased through it, so that explains why Safari is supported. Guess I won’t be using the “Kindle Cloud Reader” anytime soon.
What About You?
Are you annoyed by the trend of proprietary software replacing universal open web access? How about other “walled gardens” like Facebook? I am, and avoid them like the plague. If I have the choice between using the web or using proprietary software, I’ll use the web. If I have to download proprietary software or join a social networking site just to see, hear, or read something, then I probably won’t be seeing, hearing, or reading it. What about you?