A couple of days ago internet luminaries Stuart Langridge and Bryan Lunduke had a long twitter conversation about webapps and modern desktops, specifically around whether or not web apps were better than, worse than, or equal to native apps. It was a fun thread to read, but I think there was still a lack of clarity about what exactly makes them different in the first place.
The biggest obstacle that webapps have faced in reaching parity with so called “native” apps is the fact that they have historically been cut off from the integration options offered by a platform. They are often little more than glorified bookmarks in a chrome-less browser window. Some efforts, like local storage and desktop notifications, have tried to bridge this gap, but they’ve been limited by a need for consensus and having to support only the lowest common set of functionality.
With Unity, several years ago, we pioneered a deeper integration with our webapps-api, which not only gave webapps their own launcher and icon in the window switcher, but also exposed new APIs to let them interact with the desktop shell in the same was as native apps. You could even control audio players in webapps from the sound indicator controls when that webapp wasn’t focused.
With the new Ubuntu SDK and webbrowser-app we’re expanding this even further. For example, the Facebook webapp on the Ubuntu phone actually comes with a fair amount of QML that lets you share content to it from other apps, just like you can with local HTML5 or QML apps. You will also soon be getting notifications for the Facebook app, even when it’s not running. All of this is only an extension of the remote code that is being loaded from Facebook’s own server.
Given all of this, I have to agree with Stuart (which doesn’t happen often) that webapps should be treated like native apps, and increasingly will be on modern computing platforms, because the distinction between them is either being chipped away or becoming irrelevant. I don’t think they will replace traditional apps, but I think that in the next few years the difference is no longer going to matter, and a platform that can’t handle that is going to be relegated to history.