Thursday, July 30, 2009

A world without the browser

This morning I was contemplating the browser war, which has started again. IE vs. Firefox vs. Chrome vs. Safari. Nice fight to watch, something that takes me back to memory lane when Mosaic was my browser, when the fight was Netscape vs. Microsoft. You know, the browser is the center of our Internet experience. Everything goes around the browser. Google is built around the browser. Microsoft and Yahoo just agreed on a search deal around the browser. The browser is everything.

Then I got an epiphany.

The browser is going to disappear.

Whhhaaaaat? Are you crazy?

Ok, ok. Let me try to explain ;-) I saw the birth of the browser. I attended the third World Wide Web conference. I started the first web company in Italy. Once Tim Berners-Lee came up with the hypertext concept and created the idea of the web, I even thought about building a browser. I did. I still have some Tcl/Tk code somewhere. Others were much better and faster... The browser was the perfect visualizer for the web on a desktop. The hypertext meant links. Links need to be clicked. We had the mouse. We had big screens. We had a chair and a desk. Great match. Boom, the Internet was born.

Then came mobile.

I haven't seen one single implementation of a browser on a mobile device that actually makes the experience good (not great). Do not tell me you like the iPhone browser. It is horrible. It is probably the best you can do on a small screen, with no mouse. Clicking is a pain. Zooming and panning is a super-pain. You click when you want to scroll. You yell.

If you can choose between browsing on your PC or on your iPhone, what would you choose?


Now let's talk about Mobile Apps. They are built for interaction without a mouse. With one finger (the other hand holding the device). They are quick, immediate, intuitive, interactive.

If I have to choose between checking the weather on my PC or on my iPhone, what do I choose? The iPhone. One click. Done. I do not have to sit, open the browser, click and re-click and maybe even type my zip code. It is there when I need it.

Think about it. Mobile Apps can deliver a better experience then those on PC. Granted, I am excluding the productivity tools where you need a lot of typing. But those are few and you will need a keyboard, a desk and a chair. When you do not have to do a lot of typing, a mobile app becomes preferable.

Where is the world going? To mobile. The new Apple Tablet will blur the line even more. But it will be a mobile device for sure. An e-book reader + video player + music player + weather viewer + news viewer.... All with your fingers. All with little apps. All with no mouse. All with an App Store where you can find everything you need. The world is all going to mobile. We will spend more time without the mouse than with it.

This is the Internet era all over again. Back then, we had hundreds of small companies that started with the goal to build web sites. Now, every company wants an iPhone app. You can deliver more value with an app, than you can with a web site. More interactive, more personal, 24/7, in the hands of your customer, with push capabilities.

The result is that every company will have a mobile app, and hundreds of small companies will be created to support it. That you will "navigate" between companies moving from an app to another. That the search engine will not be on a browser, but in the app store (or in the search engine of the app stores, which someone should start developing fast...).

This is going to change the world as we know it. If the browser loses its centrality, ads will go somewhere else. The search engine will be way different. Someone has to invent a platform to link apps one to the other, of course, but the infrastructure is there. It is the engine of the browser itself, with its HTML, AJAX, CSS.

The browser will be swallowed inside the apps. We will have a world without the browser. The future is all of a sudden clear to me. Well, the browser fight looks kind of moot now...