W3C boss Jeff Jaffe explains how the web will beat smartphone apps and keep growing

W3C boss Jeff Jaffe explains how the web will beat smartphone apps and keep growing

Summary: The open web faces a serious challenge as smartphone users move to closed apps, but Dr Jeff Jaffe, CEO of the W3C, explains how they're meeting that challenge and expanding the web into new areas

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The web faces a serious challenge as a handful of giant companies -- Apple, Google, Microsoft etc -- build closed ecosystems to provide apps for smartphones, instead of developers building HTML 5 apps for the open web. This idea has been a recurrent topic in numerous conversations I've had over the past couple of weeks while writing a 20-page report (PDF) as part of The Story of the Web, Nominet's celebration of the Web's 25th birthday.

Dr Jeffrey Jaffe
Dr Jeffrey Jaffe. Photo: W3C

However, I got a comprehensive reply from Dr Jeff Jaffe, CEO of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Jaffe explains how the W3C is moving to meet the challenge from apps, and where he sees opportunities for the web to expand in the next few years. This differs slightly from the version in the report, published today, in that I excluded my questions from our telephone interview.

What are the major challenges for HTML and the W3C in particular?

HTML 5 is the next generation of mark-up for the web, and there is unanimity in the industry that that's the right direction. We refer to the current generation of technologies as the "open web platform", and we use the word platform to emphasize the fact that people are no longer using it just for static browsing of information in web pages. It's a platform for building distributed applications, and it's the most interoperable platform in history because everyone is implementing web technology. Being a platform opens up all sorts of imaginable and unimaginable opportunities.

There are certainly challenges along the way. The web is moving to all sorts of different devices -- e-book readers, tablets, set-top boxes, in-car infotainment systems -- and it's a challenge to maintain the "write once, read everywhere, implement everywhere" capability with such a wide range of devices.

The mobile world is going heavily towards apps rather than web-apps. Do you not see that as a challenge?

It's true that a lot of companies are building apps for particular smartphones, but we have a project called Closing the Gap with Native. In many cases, those apps use a lot of web technologies underneath, but there may be a particular function, such as a payment infrastructure, that's not available on the open web. There's been unprecedented rapid innovation on native smartphone platforms in the past few years, and for certain capabilities, we're behind. That's not a surprise -- in general, standardisation cannot be done as fast as innovation -- but perhaps we're further behind than we would usually be. That's a temporary situation, and with our Closing the Gap project, we're putting in the capabilities that are needed for the open web platform.

But perhaps the key appeal of apps isn't so much capability as monetization. Developers are writing for Apple's iOS to make money out of it, so to compete with that you have to have monetization capabilities built into your platform.

Absolutely. As part of that, we're going to have a Web Payments Workshop in Paris to work out a sensible way to have a standard payments infrastructure for the web. It has to handle payments and royalty programmes and things like that. Three or four years ago, there wasn't the motivation to create a web payments ecosystem because apps were just getting started, so that's one of the areas where we are behind. It will not be fixed overnight, but when it is, people will say "well, wouldn't it be preferable to do it once, do it openly, and have your stuff available everywhere?"

What's going to drive the expansion of the web in the next few years?

In industry after industry, people are moving to the web, and I have four examples of that. The first is the whole mobile app ecosystem, which we've just been talking about, which is really a new business area. Another area where we've made tremendous progress is the movement of entertainment to the web, where we have a project on TV that covers streaming, captioning [subtitles], the integration of devices in your home, and so on.

A third example is digital publishing, which the web provided 25 years ago, but it gave you very low quality typography! We're now at the point where we know how to do most of the things needed for the most sophisticated high-end publishing, so we see huge opportunities there. The fourth is the automotive infotainment system, where we're getting more bandwidth to the automobile and more things that people want to do -- such as entertain their children in the back seat. There are other things, too. We see the platform for the web becoming a platform for industry, so there are enormous opportunities for further growth.

Topics: Web development, Apps

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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8 comments
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  • If they can get rid of Flash,

    the web as a program environment can survive. If not, then it's game over...
    Tony Burzio
  • Best of luck

    I really don't see this happening. There are some things I use the website for, others I use an app. A couple of examples.....
    CNN - for me the app provides a more custom feel. The web side appears much more chaotic with a myriad of intrusive non-news (aka ads?) and no guarantee that the dislay will be highly subjective based on my browser and OS choice. Yes, this could be fixed.
    Kindle - I really have difficulty seeing the web side being as good off or online as the app. Amazon has one. Tried it extensively. Back to the app.
    Games - this I don't even have to spell out.

    Yes, the web side can be drastically improved. It is going to take an awful lot to get even close. The current lack of approved and adopted standardization likely means this will never really happen.

    Still, a decent dream.
    rhonin
  • Didn't see the part where it "beats" apps.

    "W3C boss Jeff Jaffe explains how the web will beat smartphone apps and keep growing"

    Didn't see the part where it "beats" apps. All I saw was "catch up."

    "We're now at the point where we know how to do most of the things needed for the most sophisticated high-end publishing"

    Okay: How do you do kerning?
    CobraA1
  • W3C boss Jeff Jaffe explains how the web will beat smartphone apps and keep

    One good thing to know, opinions are like mouth holes, everybody has one.

    He see's apps being made for the web when the current Operating Enviornments are building apps for their own ecosystems. The web does have its place, but the closed systems of Android, iOS and Windows will continue to thrive with "Just for Us Only" apps, Android being the most prevalent because it's ecosystem is OpenSource.

    My only differing opinion with Mr Jaffe is that only OpenSource Ecosystems will continue to thrive and probably even morph into more exotic web based apps as it continues to change and evolve.
    Labrynth
    • There's only limited space in a headline....

      But talking about monetization, he says: that's one of the areas where we are behind. It will not be fixed overnight, but when it is, people will say "well, wouldn't it be preferable to do it once, do it openly, and have your stuff available everywhere?"

      So, the point is that when you can deliver equivalent functionality in HTML 5, HTML 5 will beat native apps because of their much wider reach.
      Jack Schofield
  • Common Sense

    I can't believe there would be debate about this; *of course* HTML5 is better than apps in most cases.

    I can build my functionality one time in HTML5 and have it work on every platform that supports it--no need for separate builds for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, or any other platform that may come down the pike. I can save money while having the broadest possible audience.

    And if I need to update it, no need to update and deploy multiple apps across multiple platforms; I can just update the back end, and instantly the new code is used by all users.

    Seems like a no-brainer.
    ParrotHead_FL
    • Your point...

      Your point is especially relevant in regards to company apps. We ran across this recently with a new CRM application which only had a companion iPhone app. The first thing we called out was that only internal users and customers with iPhones will be able to benefit which is a problem (and a shrinking share). They heard us and now we have a nice web app. It is basically a mobile site served from the same web farm as the larger application. I suspect this will be easier and cheaper to maintain.

      I am not an app developer but I would imagine that some apps, like corporate apps, will do just fine as web apps. I suspect that those apps that need access to the smartphone hardware and services will need to be native. Those tend to be of a personal nature though, so far.
      djmik
  • One Web Two Systems

    "Being a platform opens up all sorts of imaginable and unimaginable opportunities."

    Yet W3C seem unable (or willing) to consider such possibilities even when posted in their own forum.

    http://www.w3.org/community/forum/2014/07/15/one-web-two-systems/
    chrisglasier@...