At the risk of being typecast as a kooky prophet of doom, I’m going to make another prediction that should prove to be about as popular as my last. Say goodbye to the World Wide Web. Sorry Sir Tim, it was great while it lasted, but it just couldn’t stand the test of time.
Pish, you say. The web is the single greatest invention of all time. It has revolutionized everything from commerce, to government, to news gathering, to communications. It has changed the way we learn, the way we speak, the way we interact with each other. The web has created entirely new ways of thinking about the world around us. The web may have even ushered us into a post-human existence; external evolution at the speed of technology. All of this is true and more. I personally think it’s impossible to overstate the magnitude of change this invention has wrought upon us. And yet… ten years from now, December 20, 2020, the World Wide Web will be akin to AOL today. Sure, you’re Great Aunt in Peoria still uses it, but if her browser opens to a blank page, she thinks the internet is down. Ah! And therein lies the key. The browser. It’s the browser that is going away and with it the web.
I believe the beginning of the end came in late 2001 with the release of a Mac OS application by Karelia Software called Watson. Watson was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. (OK, I was young and easily impressed, but it was really cool.) Watson gathered information directly from websites and presented it in a simple, easy to read format without requiring me to open a browser and dig through a web page. I could easily track Ebay auctions, buy from Amazon, or check movie listing and recipes all from within the Watson interface. Granted, the web wasn’t then what it is today, but for my money (and it did cost money), Watson was hands down a better interactive experience than using the web. It provided just the information I needed, without distractions, and in a format that I could easily navigate. And that’s why Watson, and Dan Wood, owner and lead developer of Karelia Software, are the household names they… are… today. Oh, I forgot. It didn’t happen that way.
Watson was designed to be a companion application to the Mac OS search program called Sherlock, hence the name (please tell me I don’t need to explain that further). At the end of 2002 there was a minor scandal in the Mac community when the new version of Sherlock was released and it incorporated plugins that provided much of the functionality previously found in Watson. Watson hung on for a few years, but Dan finally gave in to the all powerful Jobs and retired Watson in 2004. And that’s why Sherlock is the universal application that everyone… No, unless you were a power Mac user in the early 2000s you’ve probably never heard of Sherlock either. Within a few years even Sherlock development had ended. The web had moved on, there were much better Web 2.0 interfaces and they now had video! The web-appliance concept seemed doomed to the dustbin of history.
Until, July 11th, 2008, when Mr. Jobs triumphantly revealed the return of Sherlock in the guise of the iPhone App Store. Suddenly, the development world was all about web appliances. Stand alone apps that gave you instant and easy access to just the information you wanted without the need to log in every time and search for what you want. Just click on the icon and boom, there it is. Access to all the information without all the headache of a browser, which is ideal for a small mobile screen. Next month, however, Mr. Jobs is releasing the Mac App Store, basically the same concept as the iPhone App Store, but for Desktop Mac Apps. There has been a lot of speculation as to what kind of software will be available on the Mac App Store, and why developers will want to go through Apple for distribution, and share a large percentage of profits, when they can still go directly to the consumer. Presumably, you will still be able to install any compatible software on a Mac after the App Store is opened, unlike iOS. But the naysayers are again missing the point. It’s the “Mac App Store”, not the "Macintosh Software Depot". It will do great business in games, utilities and simple apps. There will be some productivity apps, most notably Apple’s own office suite, but the Mac App Store will bring the App experience from the mobile handset to the desktop in a way that Dan Wood could only dream about in 2001. Mark my words, the App will kill the browser, just like video killed the radio star. In 10 years, your Great Aunt will still access FaceTwitterBook via her AOL browser, and you will laugh at how quaint she is as you fire up the FaceTwitterBook App on your ARI (Apple Retinal Implant, pat. pend. Steve, call me.)
So here’s to Dan Wood, owner and lead developer of Karelia Software, the Killer of the Web, the Bane of Berners-Lee, and may I be the first to say it, the Father of the App!
The question is not whether or not you need to develop an App, but rather, why haven’t you already hired Dan to do it for you?