Industry View: Reports of the “Dying Web” Are Still Greatly Exaggerated

Jan 25, 2018


Perspectives on the digital video world from JW Player’s SVP of Product Strategy

Last month, my ten year-old son showed me a stark message displayed on our Fire TV: “Starting on 2018-01-01, YouTube will not be available on this device.”

To my son, YouTube and oxygen are basically the same thing, so the idea of either being “not available” is cause for a crisis. He demanded not only an explanation, but a solution.

A Google search provided us with the explanation: an ongoing spat between Amazon and Google (which owns YouTube). We had to wait a few days for Amazon to provide the solution: open YouTube in a web browser .

Yes indeed, there are two web browsers available on Fire TV. My son and I can verify that YouTube works great in both of them, no app required.

This incident touched on an important technology trend. Despite what people have been saying for the past five years, the web is not ‘dying’ at the hands of native apps.

The Fire TV browsers provided Amazon with a convenient end-run around Google, of course, but I believe they were sincere in saying that, “With full web browsers on Fire TV, our customers’ entertainment and information options are greatly expanded.”

There are millions of websites with video content, but few of those sites are likely to build native apps for Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV and other streaming platforms. First, because building apps is still expensive, but also because the number of web browsers in the world dwarfs the number of streaming boxes.

Here are some other developments in the past few months around web platform technologies:

Native mobile app usage is slowing . Native app analytics firm Flurry found that in 2017, the time that users spend in apps grew a mere 6% over 2016.

Earlier this month, top VC firm Silver Lake Partners invested a whopping $250M in WP Engine , a company whose entire business is hosting websites.

Apple Safari has finally joined the other three major browsers in implementing Service Worker and Web App Manifest , two APIs that are essential for developing rich Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) . We’re very bullish on PWAs here at JW Player, along with many other companies ( including WP Engine ).

Apple will also (finally) support the Encrypted Media Extensions in Safari on iOS this Spring. EME will enable playback of Fairplay-protected premium content in the browser. Previously Fairplay support was only possible in native iOS apps.

WebAssembly , which enables executable code to run in web apps at native speeds, became supported in all four major browsers . WebAssembly could be the biggest leap forward for the web since HTML5.

Snapchat is enabling users to share links to Stories for viewing on the web to expand its audience beyond its Android and iOS apps.

Hardly the picture of a patient on life-support, right?

My point is this: native apps will never kill the web. First because web technologies  are improving so quickly, but more importantly because the web is still the Great Equalizer. Anybody can create a web app in minutes, for very little money, and distribute it on the widest variety of connected devices without fear that it will be blocked—something that will not be possible with native apps for a long time, if ever.

2018 will be an exciting and transformative year for the web, so watch this space for updates.

John Luther is SVP of Product Strategy at JW Player. He’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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