Hubris -or- When All Possible Outcomes Prove Your Prescience

My day to day is filled with Windows, OSX, Android, iOS, and Linux: There is rarely a day when I don’t spend substantial time on all them, often simultaneously.

I am typing this on a Windows VM running on a Linux server, connected through VNC to an OSX box, an SSH session sitting open on the side to a Ubuntu server. It’s an average day.

And they are all excellent. They all have their place, and there are substantial overlaps in the great Venn diagram of utility.

My favorite tablet remains my iPad. My favorite smartphone my Nexus 5. My preferred development OS is actually Windows. My preferred server and infrastructure platform is Linux.

But I try to avoid the noisy platform wars: There are camps of people waving flags and yelling slogans, and it’s just…unpleasant. What’s the point? There are people who actually make it their profession to wave the flag.

Alas, today I unintentionally caught an entry from Benedict Evans that purports to describe the “next phase of smartphones”. It is making waves among the usual suspects.

In it Mr. Evans states

Hence, WWDC was all about cloud as an enabler of rich native apps, while the most interesting parts of IO were about eroding the difference between apps and websites. In future versions of Android, Chrome tabs and apps appear together in the task list, search results can link directly to content within apps and Chromebooks can run Android apps – it seems that Google is trying to make ‘app versus web’ an irrelevant discussion – all content will act like part of the web, searchable and linkable by Google. Conversely for Apple, a lot of iOS 8 is about removing reasons to use the web at all, pulling more and more of the cloud into apps, while extensions create a bigger rather than smaller gap between what ‘apps’ and ‘web sites’ are, allowing apps to talk to each other and access each others’ cloud services without ever touching the web.

Unlike the previous differences in philosophy between the platforms, which were mostly (to generalise massively) about method rather than outcome, these, especially as they evolve further over time, point to basic differences in how you do things on the two platforms, and in what it would even mean to do specific tasks on each.The user flows become different. The interaction models become different. I’ve said before that Apple’s approach is about a dumb cloud enabling rich apps while Google’s is about devices as dumb glass that are endpoints of cloud services.

Being involved in the VC community, Mr. Evans is likely surrounded by sycophants who will cheer on his utterances, never calling him when it makes absolutely no sense at all.

This is one of those cases. He is twisting reality to fit his preconceived narrative, and I suspect that any announcement of the two companies would still somehow support his visions.

Apple and the Web

iOS has long been a *stellar* supporter of the web. If we really need to humor the notion that the incredible richness of the web platform can be described as “dumb glass”, Apple has gone full dunce. They’re the head of the dunce class.

iOS features fantastic support for rich, emergent web technologies, many added long before Android. It allowed web apps to behave like native apps, a model that Android later copied to limited success. It continues to offer industry leading mobile performance for most categories of web tasks.

When you add such a web app to your home screen (e.g. – Add to Home Screen), it appears in your recently used apps just like a native app.

How about the new ability of apps to open on the clicking of a link in the browser — another hint, Evans holds, that Google is moving the world to that dumb glass future. iOS has had that for years. And just like Android, iOS watches for a magic list of HTTP links, kicking them off into the native app.

Android L improves the state ever so slightly on Android in that you no longer need to register a specific protocol namespace and customize your web server side presence, but can instead use URL expressions registered by the app (e.g. “my native app is now in charge of all links”), but ultimately that’s a refinement, and a broadening of what Apple did years earlier with their iTunes URL identification and app-ification.

Regardless, I’m at a loss to understand how opening native apps from web links, instead of in the browser, portend this “dumb glass” future. It seems more like the exact opposite?

Maybe instead it’s that iOS has added app-to-app data sharing (aka intents and registered content handlers), uri handlers, and rich notifications for native apps? Android has had those for years. Widgets and Fragments? Android, again, had those for years.

Cloud storage and notifications? Both Android and iOS have them. Both are pretty much synonymous.

How about high-performance graphics? Unsurprisingly, both iOS and Android have announced options.

Two makers, on largely identical paths, doing almost all of the same things. Both improving their product through innovation, and occasional poaching from their competitors. If there is any truth that WWDC featured more native app level improvements (but many huge web improvements), and I/O featured more web/”cloud” improvements (and a huge number of native app boosts), it’s that each maker was trying to catch up in areas where they are lagging their foe.

Drawing broad conclusions from that, however, is like declaring McDonalds the future leader of health food because they added a salad to their menu. It’s probably not very useful.

Or some grand divergence that proves some unfounded claim. You decide.