Our industry is over 20 years old now. Mosiac, the first web browser was release in 1993 followed by Opera in ’94 and Internet Explorer in ’95. Mostly we were reduced to viewing text files and eXcel like tables for our web pages. Linking to separate pages/documents was like a revolution in the HTML world that held engieneers in awe of the infinite possibilities.
Then the browser war ensued followed by the first bubble bursting/web crash. Many sites arose, most of them would fall. A lot of things have changed since then. Sadly our industries immaturity isn’t one of them.
In my youth, in the playground where I spent most of my days 1, there were debates synonymous to BBC’s flag ship program Question Time. “Boy with the red jacket standing in the sandpit eating an ice poll, can we have your first questions?”
Who’s better Michael Jackson or Prince?
Silly, juvenile, rhetorical, pointless and incredibly fun to watch, these debates would start out well with honest and thorough thought provoking responses from our panel of “experts”. As I grew up in Hackney you can only imagine how they would end.
20 years have passed and nothing has changed. I’m not talking about todays youth, they have a different set of problems caused by the devised solutions that were meant to fix the problems of the past2 a bit like gaffe tape. No, I’m talking about us, our generation and our industry.
Sure we have gained skills in a burgeoning technology that changes day to day and is in its golden renaissance era. But we haven’t changed. Let me give you a few examples.
What’s better Flash or HTML5?
What’s better Mobile first or Site/App specific?
Native or Web?
Silly, juvenile, rhetorical, pointless and incredibly painful to watch, especially when you see the big web conferences hosting expert speakers to tackle these questions. I have a tremendous amount of respect for most of these speakers. It saddens me that they feel the need to debate about these things and waste so much time on these subjects.
Flash or HTML5?
Future Splash / Flash has been a ground breaking technology for the web. Most designers believed their design skills went out of the window when they were forced to design with tables and spacer gifs.
Flash allowed us to design layouts the way they wanted, giving us the ability to produce complex animations and great interactive sites. It heralded a new age in video which in turn gave birth to websites like YouTube.
Sadly you need a plugin for it to work and it is a closed garden as, Macromedia and then Adobe, control and own the SWF/Shockwave format.
Then cue the iPhone’s release and Apple refusing to allow Flash plug on its mobile device’s.
The debate that ensured was ridiculous as Apple who also control there own walled garden accused Flash of being a closed environment. This among many other points caused Apple to argue that Flash was dead and HTML5 was King.
Ironically Apple tried to prove its point by releasing a website displaying HTML5’s kingship that only worked in Safari. Then there was the Flash retort. Followed by the occupy Flash. Then occupy HTML5. Then occupy occupy. Then a mental breakdown by a lot of web design/develop/er/s who were searching for the technology that laid the golden web/site/app forgetting why and who they were creating these things for.
This debacle has meant a tremendous amount of time and energy spent on something which is essentially a technology issue and not a user one. Just like the Native Vs Web debate.
Native or Web?
Financial Times released a successful and popular iOS app which made the company £1m in advertising revenue in the first 5 mouths it was released. After issues with Apple’s subscription model the FT decided to pull their native app from the App Store and then create a web app that could be accessed through a mobile browser.
Was this a wise move? Aren’t native apps more responsive as they tap into the hardware without an extra browser layer? The key question that I think should be asked here is “What are our main objectives?”
A newspaper should always be accessible everywhere and this was especially important to FT who needed to harvest their users details in order better target their ad’s. Apple doesn’t like publishers having their user’s data by default and allows users to opt out so the FT couldn’t reach its goal i.e. money through targeted advertising.
This isn’t really a moral debate. I don’t really agree with the adverting application model, but this is what the FT were after. In this instance a web app reached their main goal even if the user experience of the application deteriorated and despite the fact they made quite a lot of money from the native app.
So which technology is better and why do I not care?
Well we are User Experience Designers. We have to design and develop content in a clear and concise way so our users have a good experience. That content may be housed in an application or simply displayed on a site be it a game, blog or utility. The content will be different for each client. So the solution we come up with should always be different. Our role is to interpret our clients’ wants and their user’s needs.
If there are debates to be had in our industry then we should be concerned with things such as data privacy for our users, restrictive government legislation and technology in the education system as these problems will dictate the future of our industry. What we don’t need is sales pitch buzz words, new paradigms and pointless debates.
Arguing over which platform or technology is better is as useful as debating if a motor bike is better than a car. The answer should always be “it depends on the user and what we are trying to achieve”.
We must keep reminding ourselves that whatever technology we use be it Objective-C or HTML5 isn’t the king or queen. The user is.