Apps vs. Sites

When the iPad came out I began to wonder: What’s going to happen to the website as we know it? The internet isn’t going to go away anytime soon, that’s for sure. But the technology for accessing it is becoming more streamlined. It started with the MacBook Air–no CD drive, flash memory, wireless connectivity capability. Using the MacBook Air, you had to be able to survive as a minimalist by having all of your software and docs already installed on the device or having what you needed available on sort of portable or cloud storage. The iPad takes that a step further by leveraging the fluid interface design seen on the iPhone and expanding it to a slightly larger device with a bit more power. There is no software, however, to install on the iPad as it works on a series of apps downloaded from the App Store. And the constraints of the device itself have led to the development of a distinct design style that companies are thinking of as a specific skillset that designers must develop.

It isn’t just the iPad, though, that’s driving this. It’s the onslaught of touchscreen devices and tablets in general. Optimizing a website for a touchscreen device, which is most often a mobile phone, or a tablet means turning the concept of a website on its head. Displaying a website on such devices means designers and developers need to be able to ‘trim the fat’, so to speak. Important functionality must definitely be there, but the overload of visuals, frivolous animations, and pointless features is no longer needed–or viable. Users need to be able to access the important information or perform important tasks while on the go, and they don’t need anything getting in their way.

With this very distinct design style, advances in web programming languages such as HTML5, CSS3, and jQuery, and the growing capabilities of touchscreen devices and tablets, it’s only a matter of time before the traditional website becomes a web app.

Not a native app, a web app. Let that sink in exactly what I’m saying here. Native apps are optimized for a system, run on the system directly, and require very specific skillsets that can be expensive to maintain on staff or to hire in directly. A web app, while still needing to be optimized for different browsers, has more flexibility in that it relies on a combination of client-side and server-side technologies to deliver content and functionality to users, and users can download content to keep files and data on their devices. And because it does not rely solely on the device displaying it, it can actually be used on a wide variety of devices.

So what does that mean for companies’ websites? It means these companies will have a new way to interact with their customers if they do it right. Retailers, for instance, can begin creating more immersive experiences. Instead of static pages, or pages with dynamic content portions, shopping can be done from a large catalog that users interact with through a series of tools or guides to find the right outfit or the right accessories. Social networking sites can create interactive maps to track activity, closeness of connections, and even the creation of new connections.

Now to answer my question about what will happen to the website as we know it: It will become a relic, a great reminder of how far technology has come in relatively short time.