Can you imagine a world without the browser, without Google? 

The internet wasn't, then on the 7th day Tim Berners Lee best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web made a proposal for an information management system in March 1989. He implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet sometime around mid-November of that same year.  The browser was born!

We don't know the internet with out the browser. For most ... without the browser, there is no internet. 

However consider that the protocols underlying the internet (TCPIP and HTTP) are independent of the browser.  The browser only reads and displays information transferred in these protocols. The Browser and the protocols are tightly coupled but not directly linked. This is why we can build apps using  iOS, Android Windows or any other operating system and still read the data reliably over the internet without a browser. We can send packets of data in different formats like JSON or XML on top of the internet protocols and render the information using an app. This does not use a browser at all, although to most it would look the same.

Lets consider next then if a browser and an app are two different ways of using the internet to view information, what are the pro's and cons, where does one excel or fall short compared to the other?  Fortunately, its pretty simple...

A browser is an app, a very specific type of app that just so happens to be so important that it comes already installed on almost every device you buy.  When we build an app, in many ways we are building our own browser, were just installing it after we buy the device.

When writing code for a browser, we are one step further away from the core resources of the device. Our code talks to the browser and the browser talks to the device.  When building an app, our code talks directly to the device. This is one reason why apps are snappier and feel more responsive. We are talking milliseconds of difference, but to the subtle senses of the human brain, this is enough for it to feel different.  

What about the hackers, for security reasons too, the app environment is allowed to perform tasks that are forbidden to a browser.  The open and connected nature of the web makes it a little dangerous to open it up too much. For example, its hard to find a web site that will allow access to your phones contact list.  Because a browser could be running code from anyone anywhere at anytime its more sketchy and prone to abuse than running an app whose code is not only sandboxed off in its own little private container but has also been audited and approved by the app store as not malicious. (As of writing this I'm yet to hear of a descent iOS virus)

 So where does a browser excel?

Apps are stand alone, they do not link together into a web of networked information. This is huge limitation and incidentally (thankfully) is at the core of the philosophy of the internet. In this sense apps are an aberration, almost an offence to what the web stands for which is open connected access to information. Instead the philosophy behind apps is to focus on and provide incredible access to the resources of the device, battery, screen, storage, CPU, camera, microphone and other sensors.  Apps focus on the user experience of the stand alone app and make no attempt to be part of an interconnected web of information.

  • So apps are more responsive to touch and interaction and they can do more things than a browser as the environment is less open to abuse.
  • Browsers are more interconnected into a web of open and freely searchable information.

Now consider what would happen if some smart fella figures out a way to interconnect apps together into an open and freely searchable web of information. What would happen to the browser? Would we need it? What if... all the information we needed was locked away inside our apps, the apps we needed were all linked together,  what if ... we all started to slowly stop using a browser? What would happen to Google?

Consider next that Facebook's most lucrative new ad format is allowing app developers to place ads in each others apps. If I click on an ad in one app it will open the other app. Mark Zuckerberg is not silly and he is connecting the apps together.  Consider next why would Facebook purchase Parse, the extremely easy to use code library that makes building apps many times faster than before. It currently has 250,000 apps running. It's virtually free and if every developer uses it, all the apps are driving via the Parse backbone.  This many apps becomes its own network, and we could foreseeably start searching across them indexing data and creating an interconnected network. Once Parse  has enough apps, and a large enough interconnected network, what is the role of Tim Berners lee's browser and his wonderful brain child we have come to know of as www ?

What do you think ... is it even remotely possible that Zuckerbergs Facebook network is planning a network takeover? A hostile virtual TCPIP heist? It seems ridiculous, hardly even plausible but never the less .... possible.