Instagram is a small company, two years old with only 13 people and had only 4 people a year ago.  What Instagram has is a very popular iPhone photo editing app with 30 million users.  Facebook noticed and bought Instagram for $1 billion.

Is this part of the app gold rush?  Or is this excess that marks the end of a boom?  How long can the native app craze go on?

The usual pattern is for a dominant technology company to grow and encompass, which sounds better than acquire and squash, more and more features and function of smaller players.  The leaders become bigger, but also provide more value to the end user.

It’s all happened before.

First with the invention of PCs and DOS, Microsoft added disk defragmentation, undelete, file caching and absorbed the innovation of a myriad of small utility providers.  Next with Windows, Microsoft found a dominant position being the provider of actual applications.  Word, Excel, PowerPoint, then Outlook become Office and most of the software you needed for your computer.

It took another innovation, from Netscape, to show browsers and the Internet as a new tech paradigm.  Microsoft blew them away by adding Internet Explorer to Windows, but personal computers became portals to the cloud where a new group of tech giants emerged.  First Yahoo, then Google, eBay, Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook all became great technology brands.

The mobile universe presents a more silo-like business, with Apple controlling the hardware AND software for its devices.  Google’s Android which runs on diverse hardware is more like the Microsoft model.  Most of the hot apps which are not included with the phone operating system are still portals to the cloud: Facebook, Twitter, eBay and Amazon apps.

In that sense, most hot apps are really just single-site browsers.  How long will companies pour money into making their own single-site native app?

They will pour in that money as long as the icon on the phone screen buys them traffic, it represents one touch to traffic for them.

However what if there was a pre-installed icon on your mobile device that was just represented a browser link?  That link would be the browser-equivalent of the single-site app.

Right now companies are pouring millions into native app development, but if mobile operators start offering — meaning selling — screen icons as links to websites, then the era of the native app could grind to a halt.  The money paid to native app developers will go to mobile carriers for a preinstall of a weblink as an icon.

Users will get their single-site apps as single-site links.  Just as Microsoft Windows plus Office became most of the software you needed for your personal computer, you’ll get preinstalled links to your favorite places on the web.  Your mobile device will come with most of what you need.  The market for native apps will remain, but shrink.  There will be more native apps, but their popularity will die.  It will take a new technological paradigm and path for another era of software to emerge, grow and thrive.

Native apps are dying.

The multipurpose web browser is an embedded virus that will supplant the single-site native app.

And that will be the death of native apps.

2 Responses to “The end of the native app?”

  1. [...] to follow a crowd, especially to a jackpot of cash, the contrarian at has decided the growth and gold of native apps is destined to come a cropper.  Is he wrong?  Is [...]

  2. Dave Howell says:

    Hi John. I appreciate your observations but I wholeheartedly disagree with your conclusions. You assert that “most of the hot apps which are not included with the phone operating system” are the likes of Facebook, Twitter, eBay and Amazon apps. But a quick glance at the iPhone and iPad 200 top-grossing lists would absolutely disprove that. Most are games, many of which would be much less competitive without native GPU acceleration. Some of the most interesting of the top 200 are complicated productivity apps that would simply stink as web apps. ZERO of the top-grossing productivity apps are web apps. And that’s not because there are zero web apps in the category; it’s just that they aren’t selling. Why? Because people are buying the native apps. They don’t want to pay for a web portal.

    If you’re in the business to make money, native apps absolutely aren’t dying. Now, if you’re looking at the free apps, then yes, there’s a lot of web crap.

    My alternate conclusion: Web apps look like web apps. In a quiet afternoon, a lazy developer can easily produce a native app that just opens a web view and runs a web app, but nobody would buy it.


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