App is Crap (why Apple is bad for your health)

Posted on Feb 17, 2010 | 288 comments

App is Crap (why Apple is bad for your health)

Absolute Power Corrupts, AbsolutelyiStock_000009523140XSmall

I was living in Europe in 2000 when the first WAP phones (Wireless Access Protocol) were introduced.  These phones were so over hyped.  They were going to bring the Internet to your mobile phones ushering in the era of “m-commerce.”  Gag.

I had just returned from living in Japan where I witnessed the hugely successful launch of i-mode by NTT DoCoMo so I knew the potential that the mobile web would ultimately bring, but I saw so many flaws in the launch of WAP.  But like lemmings, every company in the market rushed to proclaim they were launching WAP versions of their products.

I was attending a major industry conference in Barcelona at the height of the WAP excitement.  I was on stage in front of several hundreds of conference attendees.  The moderator asked each of us panelists the asinine question, “tell us what you’re doing about WAP!”  (you know,  as in “tell us what you’re doing about China?” or “tell us what you’re doing about location-based services?”).  The panelists went down the line and like lemmings announced their plans with glee.

It came to me.  With 5 years’ of British sarcasm under my belt I said, “WAP is CRAP.  We’re doing nothing.”  And I refused to say more.

Within a year WAP became the laughing stock of the mobile industry.  It was slow.  It was hard to use.  It required content sites to develop totally new content.  There was no engagement.  In Chris Dixon’s words, it wasn’t designed for normals.

Fast forward a nearly a decade.  I’m now a VC.  Everybody and their mothers are coming into my offices proclaiming that their developing the latest iPhone App.  Kleiner Perkins launches an iFund.  The new manta is “what are you doing about the iPhone.”  I have the same gag reflexes.  The model is all wrong.

So I attended a Red Herring conference in Laguna Niguel hanging out with Dharmesh Shah, James Citron, Rob Theis and others.  The topic is “The Future of Mobile Applications” and I pronounce, “App is Crap.”  It is a step backward for our industry.  It is a waste for most brands.  It is a channel disguised in business clothing.

I would argue that if Apple’s app model continues to succeed it is bad for your health.  You – being members of the technology community.  I know that I’m into FanBoy territory and am ready to be attacked.  Before you let me have it let me say I am a FanBoy of Apple products.  I am typing this on my brand new 15″ MacBook Pro.  I ran this morning with my iPod in tow.  I own an iPod Touch (not an iPhone – my house in Brentwood gets literally ZERO AT&T bars).  I buy all my music through iTunes and even buy some videos there.  I can’t be more of a FanBay of their products.  But I’m with Jason Calacanis.  I think Apple has become corrupted and its dominance in mobile is not good for the industry.

1. App is one step forward, two steps back – In 1999 I launched my first company, BuildOnline, a SaaS-based (back then we were ASP’s) content management platform for large-scale engineering and construction projects.  In the same year launched a SaaS CRM platform to compete with Siebel.  They pronounced “The End of Software.”  It was typical Marc Benioff marketing hyperbole but it was very effective.

Their company, my company and countless others espoused cloud-based applications.  We had all worked in the software industry for a decade and saw the problems of on-premise software.  We evangelized to customer about the problems of on premise software.

– It is expensive for software companies to build for heterogeneous environments.  They therefore have large cost bases and have to pass on those costs to you.

– You have a data problem.  Your data is trapped on a client device (a PC), leading to security risks and replication problems

– You can’t access your data easily when you’re in multiple locations

– It’s harder to share data across multiple users

– Etc., etc.

When we launched browsers weren’t very functionally rich.  Therefore if you want to change just one field of data we had to redraw the entire screen.  That meant that user experience was not as rich as it would be for a client-side app.  But the trade-off in terms of flexibility and costs were enormous.  Enter the huge innovation in AJAX (asynchronous Javascript and XML), which let us redraw individual portions of the screen and therefore mimic user behavior on on-premise applications.  Enter Flash, which gave us a multimedia development environment.  The power of the web increased dramatically and “Cloud Computing” began to take a huge leap forward.

These days no serious company thinks about building on premise software companies any more.

Enter Apple.  They have popularize iPhone Apps.  You can argue that it is a necessary innovation to enable groups of users to interact with device in a way that they never could on carrier portals.  I agree.  To an extent.

I was so frustrated working with carriers in the 1990’s.  They were frustrated that despite having the (monopoly) infrastructure that brought you the Internet, the majority of innovation and profits went to Silicon Valley startups.  These same people later ran the mobile companies that were either part of or spun out of carriers.  And they swore they’d never let the application companies do it to them again.  So we as consumers (and as a tech industry) languished for 7 years.  You either had to do “on deck / on portal” deals where your app was rolled out through the carriers sh*tty operating platform or you had to go “off deck” which meant you had no customers.  And being gateways to the customer they naturally extracted their pound of flesh from mobile application developers.  And they were slow to approve people.

So I greeted Apple’s entry into the market with great excitement.  “Finally the hegemony is broken!  Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead!”  Apple would be the first major device sold where the carrier’s crappy software wasn’t on the phone.  We would herald in a new era of innovation.  Google would soon follow with their own phones, it was rumored.  The mobile web would finally be open!  Or would it?

So Apple has encouraged application developers to set loose building apps.  We now have a couple of hundred thousand applications developed.  The web browsers are as immature as the Internet browsers were in the late 90’s.  And “native” (those installed on the device) applications can take advantage of features that the browser can’t like the acceleramator (which detects motion), the GPS (to get your location) and the camera.

But here are the major problems if this model holds:

– Every developer now has to have an iPhone development team.

– Every application has to be submitted to Apple for approval.  They are now a bottleneck.  When you change an application it has to be resubmitted – however minor the change.

– Apple is the new “gateway” that can extract a toll from you (sound familiar?).  Apple wants to take a major share of the revenue.

– Data within the applications is locked into the device

– Flash is not supported, which means that all assets you’ve developed for the Internet that work in Flash are worthless for this device

– Apple has sent out signals such as that they might like to own location-based mobile advertising.  If you encroach on this territory they may stop you or blow you out. They may do this / they may not.  They may encroach in other “interesting” areas.  They may not.

– Approvals are a black box.

And this is just the start.  Now the real problems.

– If you assume that Apple always dominates the market for the mobile web (a bad assumption) then they have absolute power.  If Google is sometimes flawed in it’s “do no evil” mission, you gotta believe that Larry and Sergey deep down believe this mantra.  Steve Jobs?  Erm.  Not so much.  He has done much good for our industry.  But “do no evil?”  See Point 4 below.

If you assume that there are many players, you’re probably right.

– Let’s start with Google’s Android.  You’ve just hired your iPhone development team for you app.  They’re super busy developing a new version of your product because, guess what, Apple changed it’s terms of service to allow in-app purchasing.  So you rush to develop a new monetization strategy which means rebuilding your app.  It’s taking time to finish the product because you’re super expensive iPhone developers (they’re in high demand) are not as good as you like (they’re super high in demand).  Should you now hire Android developers? Can your iPhone developers be good at both?  Do you have enough resource to cover both?

– And that Palm Pre.  I heard it’s pretty slick and Sprint seems to be pushing it really hard. I heard they have an App Store.  Let’s look into it. Maybe we could ship our app and see how it does?

– Oh, wait.  There’s that RIM company with the Blackberry.  Should we have an app for that?  They have a super relevant and high-end installed base including people like Mark Suster who never gave up his Blackberry since Apple only offers itself on a super sucky network for which their is ZERO bars of coverage at his house in Brentwood.  But their browser sucks, their app environment sucks, the developer community isn’t strong.  But we need device coverage, right?

– Oh, wait.  I need some Microsoft OS coverage.  I know Windows CE is dead despite having like a 100-year head start on Google.  But Windows is now making a push with Windows 7 Mobile.  Maybe we could get an application out early for that before everybody else does?

– And how about Symbian?  We’re going to want to develop for all those Europeans, right?  And Nokia has the Ovi Store thing, right?

Let’s see.  We’ve got two guys developing on the iPhone, two on Android, one on Palm Pre, one on Blackberry, o.5 on Windows 7 Mobile, 0.5 on Symbian and 4 doing QA on all these freaking iterations.   Man, I sure hope there is no more innovation in this field or we are Fawked!  Oh, frack.  There is this iPad thing is coming out.  Better set aside some budget for that.

I know that there is a period of time where apps need to reign.  But I for one am betting that the future is “the mobile web” not the “the mobile app.”  There will always be some apps that have reasons to be native on devices but I am betting that serious innovation will happen on mobile browsers and that the future will so most apps folded into the cloud.  We’ve already seen it once in the PC era.  It’s the best thing for our health.  We can build for one primary browser (like we do for Firefox on the desktop today) and then figure out how to get the rest working with whatever Microsoft builds.

It will be 3-5 years before this transition takes place.  Much money will be gained and lost in this period.  And somebody will win in the transition.  Wise companies will plan for this “great porting” to take place.  Unfortunately it won’t be in the next 3 years so we have to live through this temporary era.

2. Most companies are wasting their money on apps – In addition to believing that the app movement is bad for our industry I also believe that most brands should not have apps.  I have been pitched by too many companies that want to help every brand discover their inner iPhone self.  They have kits to help the The Gap, Banana Republic, McDonalds, Kmart, Kraft or whatever other brand develop iPhone apps (I made these brands up – I have no idea whether they specifically have apps).  But I don’t believe consumers are going to want to have 500 apps on their phones.

I don’t believe there is any compelling reason for The Gap, Bananan Republic and Abercrombie & Fitch to have apps on my phone.  What they need is simple.  Websites!  And I can visit them on my mobile browser when I want to.  So in this iPhone Goldrush many companies will make bucks selling picks and axes to iPhone gold prospectors but most will be fool’s gold.

3. Apple is a channel, not a business model – I see too many companies that are building iPhone App companies.  iPhone is not a business model unless you’re Apple.  It’s a channel.  It’s a way to reach your customers.  And single channel businesses are vulnerable to the vagrancies of the market place.  If you’re a “pure mobile” company that’s fine.  There is a strategy for that.  But you need to think in terms of broader distribution.

4. Absolute Power Corrupts, Absolutely.   Finally, to pick up on Jason Calacanis’s point – I’m worried that Apple’s success might be going to its head.  Lord Acton in the UK once famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Apple now has absolute power.  Not 100% but they have HUGE power.  They broke the hegemony in the on-deck carrier model only to emerge with temporary monopolist tendencies.  Now Google is going to try and keep them in check.

Apples actions speak for themselves:

– They don’t allow Flash on their devices.  Very knowledgeable and cynical people I’ve spoken with have given me a flavor of why.  There are so many free Flash games now where the owners of the handset and OS wouldn’t be able to have a cut in the revenue if they were widely distributed on iPhones.  In stead, you have to go through the Apple gatekeeper and pay an Apple toll to develop applications for their phones.  This isn’t open innovation.  This is a return to the carrier mindset.  People like Fred Wilson have written about this topic (and gotten attacked – so I’m prepared for it!)

– They control the approval process for new apps.  Anything they don’t like – they have absolute veto power.  Full stop.

– Example – the Google Voice kerfuffle.  We’ll never really know why Apple has blocked Google Voice.

– Want an iPhone but live in Brentwood like Mark Suster does?  Well you’ll have ZERO bars.  So you don’t have an option.  Why does iPhone only come on the AT&T network?  Because AT&T has given Apple the most lucrative deal of all the operators and pays handsomely to maintain this exclusivity.  In an open and free world this shouldn’t happen.  It’s total bollocks.

I’m willing to fund companies in the interim.  I hope to soon announce an investment that relies on the mobile application infrastructure in the short-to-mid term.  But I said to the CEO that I would only invest if he believes that they long-term is The Mobile Web and that our plan is to build something that can be successful in the intervening period but with the objective or porting as the mobile web browsers become more capable.

Guys, if Cloud Computing made sense for our desktop applications it’s certainly going to make sense for our mobile lives, too.  All the same rationale holds.

UPDATE: I guess the timing on my post was pretty prescient.  One day later Apple announced that any applications with “sexy” materials (including swimsuits, lingerie) was to be pulled from the App Store as outlined in this TechCrunch article.

  • msuster

    I don't sell software so you have nothing to “not buy.” I can enjoy Apple products AND Apple applications while still feeling that this is the wrong long-term solution for the industry. These are not inconsistent thoughts. As for being a “whore” – I think having software running on multiple devices is a prudent strategy for any independent company in order to not risk being beholden to any individual product or channel.

  • msuster

    I hope you're right! But experience tells me these things take longer to mature than people expect.

  • msuster

    I think advertising is one component but also virtual goods seems to be another solution people are experimenting with.

  • Kevin

    You may be right that the Internet and the Cloud is the true solution for mobile apps/services, but I find myself disagreeing with most of your specifics in your assessment:

    1. Apple does NOT take a “major share of the revenue.” That was true before the App Store, but Apple lowered the distribution fee to 30%, and 30% out of 100% is not major.

    2. Data is NOT locked into the device. As an example, I use WriteRoom, and its documents can be retrieved from a wifi-connected computer without going through Apple.

    3. Flash (at least the kind that works on the Internet) is not yet implemented on the majority of smartphone platforms (not Android, Blackberry, iPhone OS, webOS, etc).

    4. Apple “may or may not” – well, everything is may or may not. Google and Nokia as well “may or may not.” What does that mean?

    5. The average approval delay now for apps is 4.65 days. These seems a small price to pay compared with a stores that have “downloading errors and carrier billing difficulties.” See

    6. Over 165000 different apps (Mark says couple hundred thousand, whatever) have been approved through that Black Box. Including app updates, it's more likely over 1 million. And the number that have been disapproved for controversial reasons is likely less than 1000. So yes it is Black Box but one that approves way more than it might controversially disapprove.

    7. Absolute power does corrupt absolutely but as long as there are other channels – and there will be as Apple's model, unlike the Microsoft Windows licensing model, cannot achieve 95% of the market – Apple will be restrained by what its competitors do.

    Apple suggested web apps back in 2007 (and it was met with developer derision), but Apple actually still publishes a web framework called PastryKit. See


  • Gregg Borodaty

    Mark – you've been a roll lately. This is another great post. In addition to all your points, the mobile web will win because people understand how to search the web. If I can Google (or use my search engine of choice) on my phone, I will use it before searching someone's app store. So will everyone else who moves from using the web on the desktop. Let's face it, human behavior does not change as fast as technology does.

    My company's been focusing on the mobile web for the past year for all the reasons you mention, but also because it was a great differentiator against the sea of app companies out there. Now I need to go put on my sneakers so I can run faster than all the competition you are going to inspire to jump into the mobile web with me :)

  • msuster

    Hey, Kevin. You're points are well argued so I don't want to get nit-picky. Just say a couple of things:

    1. Major does not mean majority. To me 30% is major. It's a lot.
    2. My kids play with lots of apps. They get you into the free version. The data you build there doesn't port to the paid version when you buy it. Nor does it port to other devices or the cloud.
    3. Others have openly said they will support Flash. Apple has openly said it won't.
    4. True, but there have been rumors specifically of Apple telling developers, “do not develop general purpose location-based ads. That will be our domain.” It is true others might take the same stance. Good point.
    5. I don't believe this is supported by the first-hand anecdotal input that I have. Regardless, I don't want any intermediary “approving” my having an app. Should be web.
    6. Black box = black box. Power to approve = power. I prefer an open web where the market decides.
    7. To a degree. But right now it is so dominant in the market that it is the kind maker.

    Re: PatryKit – I'm not familiar with it. I appreciate your pointing it out.

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  • bill slenter

    Agreed. The technology needs to get better, and so do the web standards. Although all PCs now have enough power to run a rich experience in the browser, the move to mobile internet is taking us a step back in terms of raw computing horsepower, so the technology needs to be refined even further, and we need to move away from bloated plug-ins like Flash to efficient, standards-based web technologies that enable rich content and a slick UI similar to what we get in custom apps.

    I am curious to see how Palm's web-based OS and 3rd party development environment plays out over the next year. Just how hard can developers push the technology, and how good will it look compared to custom apps on the iPhone? I realize that even Web-OS is somewhat proprietary, but perhaps it's a step in the right direction if it's powerful enough.

  • eliafreedman

    I've been in mobile for 13 years, have complained openly about the write three hundred times, run once problem, and have written articles for my own blog and ReadWriteWeb on the subject of cross-platform mobile development. So I'm curious about your opinion on a couple of topics:

    1. How do you feel about app dev products like phoneGap and Appcelerator that serve as a “write with mobile standards” but create native apps? Is this an intermediate step to “write a mobile web app” in your mind or a long-term solution or not a solution at all? What do you think about the fact that these apps and web apps don't usually act and feel just like a native app?

    2. I have to admit that the Facebook/ReadWriteWeb fiasco is enlightening. Is this a statement on the average users ability to actually use a web site (and thus a mobile web app)? Are these people better off with little icons and apps that take all the web stuff out of the way? Even the writer of the Facebook iPhone app feels that it is better than the website. (Joe Hewitt works for Facebook and works on their website as well.) Are these people really just an ignorant minority or is this a deeper reality that Apple's apps, iPhone and iPad are actually addressing?

    I have opinions but would love to hear yours.

  • James Barnes

    Incisive post. Thank you. When the networks are fast enough and the devices are truly open, the app will be dead. Until that time, apps will be a well guarded revenue generator.

    Expect to see many more devices running touch UI and an accelorometer in the next couple of years. Games will always sell. Expect to see advertising revolutionise the mobile browser. And if they are allowed, expect to see more utility apps.

  • Nitin Mittal

    Mark, great post and very well thought out. I am a long time follower and first time commenter. This post deals directly with what my company faces on a daily basis with m-Commerce. We are able to transcode a website on to any smartphone usually with full functionality and little/no back-end involvement.

    We started pitching it to e-Commerce companies as the perfect bridge to the mobile space. In some cases, we have noticed e-tailers naturally receiving 2% – 4% of site traffic from mobile users and poor conversion.

    Some CMOs seem to be enamored with building an iPhone app in order to play catch up with their competition. An app is viewed as brand extending, a rich experience, and a “cool thing” to have while being viewed as experimental. I give a ton of credit and thanks to APPL for accelerating the mobile environment. However, I agree it is very short-side and will be hard to support across various OSes. As things are shaking out, why not address more users than less?

    Similar to a PC-based experience, an intuitive action by a mobile user is to search for a website or directly enter the URL. Now, apps have proliferated and created too much noise. Some companies offer great apps or others have strong brands that automatically have mindshare, so people will seek them out and download those apps.

    Sorry for the long response. It would be great to get your thoughts on what you are currently seeing and how you envision the next few years developing.

  • Ilya

    I am not sure I agree with any of this. Obviously, there is a AppStore bubble taking place with iPhones, and yes, the overhead of provided a version of the same app for every kind of device is prohibitive, but are these bubbles necessarily bad? I would say that the line between a bubble and sustainable, steady growth is very fine. Any new technology brings with it a kind of a gold rush, and really, the history of technological progress is a series of gold rushes. The companies the thrive are the companies that see beyond the next bubble, but I don't think that necessarily translates into the strategy of sitting idly by and waiting for the next opportunity with sustainable growth behind it to come about. So it is a balancing act between joining the fray and sitting on the sidelines, and I do believe that the fray is a better competitive environment for the sustainable growth businesses to emerge.

  • Svitojus


    I am not in this business, but as a consumer I always wanted iPhone because of it's looks and usability. The software part freaked me out, so I never got into this craze. I don't like something, that would limit my choise. It's like as if McDonald's were the only ones and would offer two hundred different meals. I don't want that. It means that at any point they feel they want to make me do something I would have to.

    Free world, yeah.

  • Michael Lindner

    Word! I ran into the problem that most of the data i stored in apps on my windows mobile are not easy to transfer into the android.

  • bonelyfish

    Every solution is a response to a problem/need. If “mobile WEB” was the future of mobile, it should address problem/need that no other technology could do better. But what is the problem/need it addresses? WAP is crap, J2ME is crap because people then said that it would be the future of mobile, treating it as technical wonder and neglected its usability. Mobile market is not a technie playground and there are 99.99% users not giving a damn if it is “mobile WEB” or else. App store may not be the future, but it brings life to the mobile scene which progressed so slowly in the last decade. (BTW, who say an app cannot be a cloud front-end)

  • andrej

    The problem with “mobile web” is that it's currently not good enough. It's mostly read-only, with some keyboard data entry.

    The sensor part of mobile phones will be very important: location, compass, video-camera, audio microphone, photo (barcode scanners), other devices like heart-rate monitors, credit-card readers, chemical sensors, temperature, rfid, etc. The mobile phone will be your mobile data entry device, digitizing the outside world.

    For the “mobile web” to succeed we need good javascript access to all the sensors on a mobile phone. Some progress is being made in this area (location eg), but a lot more is needed.

  • bonelyfish

    Every solution is a response to a problem/need. If “mobile WEB” was the future of mobile, it should address problem/need that no other technology could do better. But what is the problem/need it addresses? WAP is crap, J2ME is crap because people then said that it would be the future of mobile, treating it as technical wonder and neglected its usability. Mobile market is not a technie playground and there are 99.99% users not giving a damn if it is “mobile WEB” or else. App store may not be the future, but it brings life to the mobile scene which progressed so slowly in the last decade. (BTW, who say an app cannot be a cloud front-end)

  • andrej

    The problem with “mobile web” is that it’s currently not good enough. It’s mostly read-only, with some keyboard data entry.

    The sensor part of mobile phones will be very important: location, compass, video-camera, audio microphone, photo (barcode scanners), other devices like heart-rate monitors, credit-card readers, chemical sensors, temperature, rfid, etc. The mobile phone will be your mobile data entry device, digitizing the outside world.

    For the “mobile web” to succeed we need good javascript access to all the sensors on a mobile phone. Some progress is being made in this area (location eg), but a lot more is needed.

  • jayliew

    I didn't see much touched on browser innovation in this post .. I too agree that mobile web is the way to go (not mobile apps), so the question I pay attention to is who is really going to take mobile web browsers to the next level? AAPL just has a vested interest in not making their mobile web browser too good – whereas GOOG has everything to gain in that direction. Imho mobile Safari has the scent of IE's trajectory: old, not much innovation, and someone else is going to blow them out of the water.

    Hello, I'm an developer and iPhone owner but my next phone is going to be an Android, even if it may not be as slick as the iPhone.

  • wilhelmreuch

    So what is the difference from the current situation with a web that is controlled by Adobe? Currently we have no open web – a device maker cannot innovate and create a device with any optimized redenring of webpages.

    Why? Because you need Adobe's blessing – you need their Flash-platform on your device. Or else you will only render incomplete webpages.

    The Apple iPad shows this problem. Is it Apple's fault that we have all ben fooled by the web builders? That anyone could make a browser? In some distant past maybe – but curently the web is locked to Adobe Inc.

    So I think it is great that Apple caved in and allowed us to make applications optimizted for their multi-touch device. Yes, caved in, because Apple at first just pointed us devlopers to making web applictions. But web applications are a closed business – you can only do this on Adobes platform and the only supplier of serious tools for this platform is of course Adobe.

    In a perfect world the web would be open to anyone. Currently Adobe own the web and is current filibustering the HTML5 standards group. I see it as a positive sign that Apple offers us an alternative in writing apps with the iphone sdk.

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  • jayliew

    I didn’t see much touched on browser innovation in this post .. I too agree that mobile web is the way to go (not mobile apps), so the question I pay attention to is who is really going to take mobile web browsers to the next level? AAPL just has a vested interest in not making their mobile web browser too good – whereas GOOG has everything to gain in that direction. Imho mobile Safari has the scent of IE’s trajectory: old, not much innovation, and someone else is going to blow them out of the water.

    Hello, I’m an developer and iPhone owner but my next phone is going to be an Android, even if it may not be as slick as the iPhone.

  • thierrymilard

    Powerfull analysis about Iphone web apps.
    at last someone has a mind.
    I am just a bit tired about the “party attitude” towrad Apps.
    I am also so happy to see android confronting Apple on this field.
    Open, open , open, open the winner will be in this field.
    While open means … a single development tool for avery handset.
    Flash can be this I hope. But also javaScipt-html.
    and why not a java-javaFx comeback.
    In the meanwhile I will just way for things to mature.

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  • Marc Winitz

    Man this is timely. I am dealing with this multiplatform handset cluster right now. The dev expense is only half the issue. There is the whole support issue that follows in supporting multiple OS for handsets meaning you need CSR's (more of a business issue than for consumer plays).

    You had to know the whole Flash thing was bull shitake (sorry, GK ref)…that's just all wrong.

    Nice post “Mark Suster with zero bars” (you're native American Indian name?)…

  • jim boyle

    i agree with the fundamental premise that the web will ultimately win….but man, i really hate today's 'mobile web', especially for shopping….i would really love and use some branded catalog apps for my favorite shopping sites. as mark indicates new technologies will close the gap and make the web experience as rich as the app experience, but in the meantime, i would buy more stuff from my favorite brands if i had a good catalog app on my phone.

    especially agree with mark's point about being a 'mobile' company, not an apps company. as i embark on creating a newco around mobile and apps, i will keep this mantra in focus.

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  • scheng1

    Actually I'm heartily sick of these technologies. It seems that technology is helping bosses to keep track on their employees 24 hours a day.

  • michelangelo

    great read mark! i just wrote a little article on the iPad, iPhone (and Apple's non-Flash stance) and how interactive advertising is suffering from them – and ultimately consumers – by way of a flawed user experience. check it out:… i think it extends your thinking here.

  • Ben

    I do not want the damn Flash Player on my iPhone! There are good reasons why it has not been ported; it's a resource hog. Even on my 2Ghz macbook goes into meltdown viewing Flash files, plus it's buggy. I think Apple have been wise not to include this terrible plugin into the iPhone OS.

  • Alan Warms

    just replied here:

    started to type comment but it got too long :-)

  • imse4n

    Great post, man. Intelligently written and thought provoking. I am on the same page with ya…

  • Francis Carden

    Conceptually all of the arguments in this blog makes sense. But nothing seems to account for the fact that enterprise applications require an entirely different level of functionality. Why have Rich Client applications been the most successful UI for the enterprise -by far! Even in the what, 10+ years we've have had the web, we have to stuff it full of plugins to make it work. It's ridiculous. How do we make 2 apps talk to each other? Copy and Paste. Whoppee dee. I go to customers still using green screens and they work. The Users are fast. Perfect? No, but I've yet to see a web app that can deal with a users speed, type ahead, multi-tasking, fast context saving and more. Until we find some new “development” platform that allows for more than just basic accounting, contact management or field select/clicking in the web, I don't see how you'll stop Flash, Silverlight, Iphone or other “Rich UI's” not trying to dominate. Is that right? No and I agree with the author but his 3 years estimate will fall way short. There are still 10-15 year old apps running in most enterprises and no-one has even started on the road of a rewrite.

    We need a new paradigm and perhaps we should ditch the “Browser” and think again. The Browser was a concept for viewing documents that we have hacked and hacked until it's so fragmented, even my wife (who isn't a legacy UI person) prefers the 10 year old Quicken UI in their fat client over ANY app in the Browser! My 2 cents. We need something “NEW” – from the ground app that puts the center around the business logic. We need a 5GL and then the presentation pieces should be super RICH.

  • fatmann

    Nice post.
    But I have tens of apps, related to three hobbies I have, on my iPhone and on my iPod Touch. This is of tremendous importance to me personally. That's why I own these devices. And I can also make phone calls with one of them. It's apps I want.

  • fatmann

    and WAP was crap mostly because of the lack of mobile IP networks at that time. imode would also have been crap on circuit-switched. imode became a huge success mainly because of the business model, allowing developers to keep a larger share of the revenue, unlike the greedy European carriers/

  • Kevin

    1. In the US, nobody was offering 30% before Apple did. Maybe some have gone further since, but are those distributors breaking even?
    2. That's up to the app. Apps can send data to the cloud and can port to the paid version if they want.
    3. Jobs once said “Flash Lite isn't Flash on the web. Flash for mobile is a battery hog. Fix it.” I'm sure I can find the link if I have too. Does Flash 10.1 fix it? Who knows? Apple never pre-announces or pre-commits when it doesn't have a reason to.
    4. Apple never said “do not develop general purpose location-based ads. That will be our domain.” Show me the link, or is this the telephone game? Apple did say “Apps that use location-awareness primarily to deliver ads will be returned. End/Stop.” If your app involves travel, navigation, social networking, shopping, then using location-awareness is not primarily for ads. (If anyone has been rejected for this, please make it known.) If your app is a standalone tic-tac-toe game, then it most likely won't. Now I think it would be more than fair to criticize Apple for not letting this be a user opt-out.
    5/6. In the retail world, there is an intermediary who approves whether your product can get on their shelves. That intermediary serves a purpose for its customers – it filters according to its brand image, which is based on its target audience – although they all sell jewelry, Walmart does it one way, Target another, Amazon another, Nordstroms another, Tiffany's still another. Apple is saying that it will be the intermediary for its customers. If your target audience (customers) want to go direct to you, then Apple iPhone Apps isn't for you. And that's okay, there are other choices for you. (Note: Apple is still learning how to operate the App Store, so yes, criticize specific instances and push Apple to change. Since many have done that, trademark law has been clarified, consistency and speed of approval has been gained.)
    7. Why is the Apple channel dominant? Because over 90% of its customers are satisfied whereas customers in other channels are less so? Because it's stupid media hype? That's the question you should answer. If you can make another channel work so well that your 90% of your customers are satisfied, and that there are enough customers to run a business profitably, then I encourage you to make it happen. But just say that, no need to inaccurately disparage the other channel that is serving its iPhone customers well.

    In any case, thanks again for your views. I, myself as a software engineer, am fine with the “web.” At one point, I thought the younger generations would be proficient with the web, having grown up with it, but the more I see what young people (15-35) do, the more I think the web is still too complex for the masses.

  • Lon Koenig

    Free iPhone apps are the new Flash mini-site. But we have the web and it works. Most of the features “app” developers want are exposed to web pages. I'm an Apple Developer, and just this week I tried to talk two organizations out of developing iPhone apps and making web pages.
    There is a place for real applications: uStream Broadcaster, 3D games, Camera apps, etc., but most iPhone Apps should be web pages.

    One reason publishers love iPhone apps is that they can charge for them. No rational person expects to be able to charge for a web page.

  • Dominic Endicott

    As a fellow VC focused on wireless, and Chairman of a company focusing on Mobile Web software, I appreciate your articulation of the app problem and championing of mobile-web. Nevertheless, we have accepted that Mobile Apps today push the envelope of consumer and even enterprise experience on smart-phones, and learned to embrace the app, and iPhone's role. My view is that the mobile app and the optimized mobile web (for the non-optimized variety is truly cr*p), will co-exist (one indication is that roughly 50% of the top 100 web-sites in the US have at least an iPhone App and 50% have an optimized mobile-web experience and 30-35% have both), and that these two formats will push each other to ever greater performance. As mobile-web gets richer, development will shift increasingly away from apps, given the greater economics of write-once development. I agree that this is a 3-4 year window and in the mean time the last thing you would want to do is miss out on the amazing experiences afforded by native app development on smartphones. The experience afforded through a best-in-class smartphone app, leapfrogs that of everyother consumer interface – including in many cases the full-screen web experience. We are on the brink of an explosion of creativity and customer experience, and the prime catalyst has been the iPhone.

  • edwin

    Imagine Bill Gates trash talking competitors like Jobs is Adobe and flat out banning them from Windows.

    The Apple is rotten.

  • Joe

    Yawn. Call me when someone else even remotely brings the same innovation to the computer or mobile market as Apple.

  • Tom Foremski

    Closed and proprietary systems are traditional ways that companies have made money in the computer business. Apple is becoming more closed and proprietary with every new device. Yes, a mobile web is better for developers, but what does Apple get out of it? Selling hardware is fine, getting a cut from every transaction is even better. Apple makes sure the customer experience is great (except for AT&T) makes it easy to buy, makes it easy for developers to get their money, everyone is happy. Apple can open up later than the line, once it has consolidated its iTunes/appstore position.

  • Chema

    Take a step back: how do you introduce the beyond-voice-SMS-mobile to the billions of persons with no smartphone/iPhone? Sure not with apps: one app for each thing? That's not for normals. Much better use a single use case for many different things. Think SMS. Think mobile web.

  • msuster

    Dominic. I agree with your comments. I accept that there is temporary period of time where the native app is more powerful. I am just hopeful that we can get to browser capability increases sooner rather than later for the sake of software companies.

    BTW, we met when I was in London and when we were raising money for BuildOnline. Weren't you with Warburg Pincus? Or am I misremembering?

  • msuster

    Yes, I understand this argument well and know why companies focused on closed systems in the short term. It seems to me that walled gardens eventually erode. But we'll see.

  • Kevin

    How could Flash be this hope? Is Adobe going to offer it as an open standard sometime soon?

  • Fang

    I agreed with most of Mark's points sans two: He went on and on about data being locked on the device but that’s simply not the case if the data is on the cloud. Strangely he also brought up the (lack of) network coverage issue within the same article that was supposedly to support mobile Web. Heh.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter what a bunch of technorati (developers, designers, and anyone who actually cares about this topic) think. It’s the end user that matters. Sure, there may be hundreds of design, technical, and business reasons that the mobile Web model is superior to the app model, but at this moment apps offer the end users better experience—richer media, more features, faster speed, perception of ownership, and more. The headache caused by browser bookmark management along makes the app model a much better experience.

    Of course, all this may change in the future. Web apps may one day provide better experience and thus better value to the end user. That will be the day the market shifts. What us technology and design geeks think is inconsequential.

  • James

    The mobile Web is here now, and it's losing. Apple launched with a cloud app philosophy for the iPhone and it went nowhere. There is nothing keeping a company from building cloud apps for the iPhone now–it has a great browser for running AJAX apps. Users can even put direct links to cloud apps on their home screen, just like apps they download from the App Store.

    The reason everyone is flocking to apps is that they are more powerful and more capable, period. You can talk about strategy all you want but at the end of the day the better product wins with the consumer. And for most things, apps are a better product on such a limited platform.

    “These days no serious company thinks about building on premise software companies any more.” Tell that to gaming companies, many of whom are very serious and successful on-premise software companies (including on the iPhone). You cannot access a GPU through the browser.

  • James

    Let me expand a bit on what I mean about “mobile Web.” I mean an ecosystem in which apps are interacted with through a general-purpose browser like Safari. I would argue that many of the “purpose built apps” are really just custom focused browsers. On my iPod Touch I have the NY Times and Ebay apps and I use the built-in Maps app…even though all three are easily accessible through Safari. The experience is just better through the dedicated apps, even though the network data is the same.

  • mattycandy


  • msuster

    Nitin, thanks for your input. I think for the next 5-7 years people will need purpose built web apps (versus just web sites that are architected to work on mobile). Sounds like solutions like yours are doing a good job of helping people get started.