It’s no doubt we’re in a big new era where everyone is carrying a smartphone, most of us are using tablets at home and our laptops are mostly gathering dust in the closet.

As we move more and more into this mobile lifestyle what we are not doing is as important as what we are doing.  We are NOT using browsers on our mobile devices.  The average user launches the browser on their smartphone once per day while launching apps at least 15 time more often.  What does this decline in browser usage mean?

There is a one-for-one trade-off between the decline of the browser and the rise of apps.  We are now using the Facebook app, the Twitter app, Google Maps app, Gmail app, Angry Birds app, Instagram app, WhatsApp app, YouTube app, appcetera, appcetera, appcetera.

The upside of the browser, as originally envisioned by the Mosaic browser in 1993, was an open platform to view all web content.  You would use one tool to see everything, everywhere.

Apps are the opposite extreme.  Apps are single-purpose engines for focused niches of data.  You need many apps where before you only needed one browser.

The browser took advantage of the HyperText Transport Protocol invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 which defined an open standard for everyone to publish their data.  Apps are by nature native creatures, tied and locked down to the platforms they run on.

Right now there are three app platforms that seem to be winning: Android of course, way out in front of all others, iOS much father back after inventing the app category and Windows Phone which is stubbornly carving out a small niche.  The more “open” app platform is HTML5, a descendant in some ways of Tim Berners-Lee’s work, but HTML5 has failed to get market traction.  HTML5 apps are few and far between.  As of now you can run Android apps, iPhone and iPad apps and Windows Phone apps on hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of devices.  HTML5 has been relegated to a mere handful of sub-million units of devices.

What’s striking to me is how proprietary apps are and what a new tech world we are in.  The WorldWide Web was open and more standard.  Browsers differed on features and competed, but also supported open international standards for publishing data.  Native apps have torn this all asunder.

Are we losing the openness of the Internet?  Are we in danger of becoming a series of big three walled garden networks?

Right now, it’s looking this way.  The only way to prevent such an app-tastrophe is for apps to be mere clients, thin shells of functionality, with all their data in the cloud.

The cloud is the ultimate in the proprietary lock-down of data.  We’re losing the open fields of the web to the closed space of the cloud.

So smartphones are being reduced to the dumbest of clients.  The Internet is being divided into three walled gardens (Android, iOS and Windows).  You will have to pay to access this new clouded network through the vendor you select be it Google, Apple or Microsoft.

We have lost the commons, the public space.

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