From the ‘end’, to ‘death’ of apps as we know them?

I read recently¬†that the Chinese mobile browser, UBWeb (owned by Alibaba) is partnering with Facebook to offer push notifications from Facebook used via UCWeb’s mobile web interface.¬†Even when the user closes that browser window, if opted-in, they’d continue to get push notifications in their mobiles!

I tried this and it worked flawlessly – the 2nd one in the screenshot here is from UCWeb. I don’t use UCWeb (I use Chrome), but this is a great reason to start using UCWeb.


This seems like a mighty significant move to me, but when I posed this as a question on Twitter and LinkedIn, there was complete silence.

So, let me elaborate on why I found this ground-breaking.

First, we do have a consensus that the mobile apps industry (app economy) is fairly significant and important, right? A lot of people working on building and monetizing apps, right?

Next, remember how Android’s latest version, Lollipop treats Mobile Chrome browser tabs by default? You cannot open multiple tabs in the same mobile Chrome window, but each page opens as a new instance of Chrome. There is a way to bundle windows into a single tabbed instance of Chrome, but I was very curious about why they’d unbundle it.

Most reasons pointed to the new mateial design making it easy to track each opened page as an individual app-sorta instance/interface, but I wasn’t convinced of the benefits. So, I moved to tabbed interface on my Nexus 6.

Now, if a mobile browser can mimic not only the app-level UI and UX, but also the last bastion of the app – the push notification – why would we need to build dedicated apps anymore?

All we would need to build is towards responsive design and when the page is accessed via a mobile interface, it not only behaves akin to an app in UI and UX, but also delivers push notifications, eliminating the need for installing apps in the first place!

Is that not a significant game changer? That we may not need to build apps anymore at all?

And, if you combine this with Chrome’s default setting in Lollipop, it now makes complete sense! That I can simply open a page, and not instal an app, of my favorite social network, and that page behaves pretty much like an app.

Given that I’m not a developer, the finer points about what an app may bring to the table for the developers and users – better metrics?, better UI/UX that cannot be fully mimiced in a web interface? – eludes me. So, please feel free to disagree with the entire premise of the blog post and enlighten me.

But, wouldn’t this update, and one that will eventually be possible with every other browser (See: Alert! Websites Will Soon Start Pushing App-Style Notifications, MIT Technology Review), kill the app-era as we know it? Yes, that mobile browser will still be an app, but do you need apps beyond that? And, isn’t that signifying that the app economy will merely be clubbed on to the website building ecosystem?

This update also answers another reigning concern – about apps not being part of the ‘deep-linking’ brigade (See: Apps Everywhere, but No Unifying Link, New York Times). If all our apps are nothing but web pages that behave like apps, Google can run amok with their robots, all over again, right?

NOTE: This perspective is a bit different from the much-shared point of view of Intercom’s Paul Adams, late last year (See: The end of apps as we know it!). Paul’s central idea was about super-charging notifications that we do not need to access apps again, as much as we do now.

My premise is that we may not even need to build apps in the first place!

PS: These are the list of other services that UCWeb can send push notifications from! I see Twitter there too!