Sustainability of the ‘Apps’ ecosystem(s), and why I’m excited about Firefox OS

I was at a friend’s cookout this weekend, and after explaining to one of their neighbors what I did for a living (web developer), he asked me if the future was in “apps”, and not the web.

I mumbled something to the effect of: the web is more sustainable. It’s too expensive for a company to keep building apps for every new platform that comes along.

In the days since then, I’ve come to realize that this was incorrect, in at least one big way: It presumes a world where there are many mobile platforms with enough users to be relevant to developers and publishers. That’s not the world we live in, and it’s not a world that’s likely to come about.

The reason it’s unlikely is pretty simple. Both Google and Apple have established a feedback loop that reinforces their dominance (people use iOS or Android because that’s what their friends use and that’s where the apps are; developers build for iOS or Android because that’s where the users are). If your business is publishing or entertainment, developing for those two platforms isn’t onerous. If apps are your business, then either one may prove a big enough market, if you can’t invest in both.

This cuts to why I’m pessimistic about Ubuntu Touch, and excited about Firefox OS. Ubuntu is trying to launch a whole new ecosystem of “apps” (with a significant legacy of Linux software, at least). Firefox OS, on the other hand, is going to make the web better.

Firefox OS is a mobile platform where the premier “apps” are built on web technology. Where there are functional gaps between “what’s possible in native apps” and “what’s possible on the web”, they are being treated as bugs that can be fixed, all while working with the W3C to make sure any new API’s are vetted and incorporated into web standards.

What that means, is that many of those improvements will likely make their way to other platforms. If a new Javascript API or DOM method makes sense, it’ll eventually show up in Mobile Safari, Chrome, and even Internet Explorer. Even if you aren’t using a Firefox OS device, it’s going to make your life better.