I was reading the other day a provocative article titled The end of the browser?. This article basically argues that with the world using more and more mobile devices, mobile applications are replacing Web browsers for various reasons, the main one being that they’re more convenient to use than Web pages displayed in browsers.
While I disagree with the author, I think this is a very interesting question that raises two different issues:
- What if the Web is replaced by Mobile Apps? Why would it be bad to lose Web browsers as a primary way to access information and services?
- What can be done to ensure that the Web browser doesn’t become a thing of the past as the world goes mobile?
What if the Web was replaced by Mobile Apps?
I think the world would lose a lot in this case. It would actually lose so much that I don’t even know where to start…
Freedom of expression
The Web is not only made of commercial content. Having the ability to express oneself is fundamental. The Web provides this, and having a decentralized place to publish things is necessary. Centralized commercial AppStores have shown a tendency to censor content aggressively to avoid litigation, whether it’s about artistic content, political content, freedom of the press or plain bad taste.
Freedom to shape my experience
Modern Web browsers feature add-ons that enable users to customize their experience. But even before Firefox made such add-ons popular, it was possible to use alternative style sheets or user style-sheets to alter the presentation of the content. It’s not just about taste, but also very important for Web content to be experienced by people with special needs.
Let’s not forget that every major platform features a Web browser, from Windows to MacOS to GNU/Linux and all smartphones: users don’t have to purchase specific hardware of software to access the Web. All they need is a computer that can run a Web browser.
Freedom to learn, tinker and create
What makes the Web different from other media is that people can participate. Unlike TV, you don’t have to own a TV station to share your point of view with an audience. Everyone can publish a blog post that links to other pages, share photos or videos, and it’s fantastic progress for democracy, compared to the times of TV, radio and newspapers.
But the Internet and the Web are not just media. They are platforms for innovation. Because anyone can learn how the Web works by viewing the source code, the Web allows anyone to create a Web application, which leads to more innovation, coming from more people.
What can be done to prevent the Web browser from becoming a thing of the past as the world goes mobile?
This question has a much shorter answer, and I’ll describe what Mozilla is doing about this:
- Keep making a great desktop Web browser: Firefox
- Keep making a great mobile browser: Firefox for Android
- Work on an open mobile operating system to make the Web the mobile platform of choice: Firefox OS (soon on mobile phones near you!)
The Open nature of the Web is giving people freedoms of all kinds, and this is why Mozilla is investing in Firefox OS: it’s the best way to make sure that the Web has a future in a world where most people use the Internet on mobile phones.
What do you think he world would lose if the Web browser was to disappear? Tell us in the comments below.