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10:00

The Grim Future of Web Browsers

Nothing new appearing today in the IT world is labelled as a surprise, because everything moves so fast and at some point in time you start to know when the big news hit the market. With the technology advancing so fast, especially all the mobile devices we call smartphones today part of the mainstream and are, maybe, the most important thing in our lives. So by sending a message from your QWERTY Android device or by playing Fruit Ninja on your latest iPhone, have you ever thought that you yourself are changing the IT world?

Well if you haven’t, I can tell you for sure that you do. By using portable devices more often and desktop computers less the latest gadgets quickly become out of date. Without realizing we have become unplugged and do not need computers anymore – which also means we do not need browsers anymore. And why would we? At the end of the day we have our smartphones filled with apps that can keep us busy for a long time. Sometimes I don’t even check my Facebook from my computer, even if I am close to it, because it is much easier to do it from the phone. Ever since the IT world made it possible to connect to the internet wirelessly, nobody has looked back. People invest much more money today in phones and portable devices like tablets or eBook Readers than in computers.

Image by ~jeroen-tje

Internet without a Browser


It is easy to see how we’ve become unplugged. Apple’s iOS and Android do it; Adobe Flash Player 10.2 and AIR technologies as well. HTML5 starts becoming more popular and supported on many portable platforms and other companies like Blackberry or Nokia follow in close. There are over 400,000 applications in the App Store, an incredible growth from 500 in the beginning. Android has around 400,000 applications and the numbers are increasing. The year started with around 300,000 apps for both platforms and ends with, very possibly, close to 1 million of them. Android included Flash from the 2.2 Froyo version and this made the portable devices running on the open-source platform even more popular. And you know what the good part of this is? That you don’t need anything besides a WiFi or 3G/4G connection to access them from all over the World.

Why do we talk about apps when we’re talking about browsers? Because if you think about it, the applications are nothing less than websites which are accessed without a browser. And more than 10 million of them were downloaded in 2011. That’s a huge amount of users who accessed this information from a portable device, avoiding using a browser. And it should be a clear sign about the future of the web. The apps are more intuitive, faster and easier to use, therefore they are preferred to Chrome, Mozilla, Safari or any other application. Another advantage is that the apps can be accessed from everywhere, while for a browser you not only need internet, but also a computer.

Smartphone and the Internet


A smartphone will also always allow you access to the internet, so why have a big laptop when you can have a pocket device that can do the same? A study made two years ago concluded that by 2013 mobile browsing will be more popular than desktop browsing. With the usage of smartphones growing by 110% in the US in 2009 and by 148% all over the world, this seems quite possible. Also, the younger internet users get educated in the world of smartphones, meaning that the computer will mean even less for them than it does for us.

source: BettyArmado via Chrome Store

This could be great news for designers – up til now everybody had to have a webpage, soon everybody will have to have a mobile device version as well. More work, more money for the design industry. China for example is a huge industry with tremendous potential. Not many people there have tablets or smartphones, but many say in 3-4 years everyone there will own one. With a market of almost 1 billion mobile subscribers, there will be a huge need for mobile websites for the companies and business individuals. So, bottom line, the fact that web browsers are on a downhill is not that bad for us – we will still have a lot of work anyway.

Right now there are more than 300 million mobile internet users in China and this is around 60% of all mobile and desktop internet users all over Europe – we’re talking huge numbers here. We’re talking about the Chinese equivalent of eBay, Taobao on which the transactions for the last year totaled roughly $60 billion; and this is while eBay was delighted with a total of only $2 billion. All of these things happen while the major internet providers already update the speeds to 4G. You see where I’m heading? As designers, we might be concerned that our jobs will disappear in 15 years but really, who knows how many other challenges will appear for us by then?

However, the truth is that it always takes up to five years after a new web technology appears until people get a hold of it and learn how it really works. Smartphones are huge today, but I don’t think they reached their maximum potential yet. There is still a lot yet to come and just because we think we know everything, it doesn’t mean we actually do. Web browsers are still popular and widely used, but they will be a thing of the past at some point in time, because nothing lives forever on the web. There is no such thing as a technology which didn’t improve since it was released (unless it was released recently).

Conclusion


The bottom line of this article is that even if the browsers disappear in several years (or at least their use will decrease), there will still be a lot of work for designers and developers. The internet is almost fed up with designs and experts, in five years time it will all move on portable devices. This means, as stated before, much more work for us, both for desktop and portable devices. All the technologies will be available on portable devices as well at some point in time and designing for them will be maybe even more challenging than designing for desktop use.

The beginners of today are the experts of tomorrow. We all know what’s coming in the short term, so why not try to become better at this while letting the current experts do their work? Who knows, in five years it might be you who earns the big bucks from all kind of clients and, as its normal, there will be others taking your place in the “follower seat”. The increasing use of smartphones and tablets bring a new taste in the design industry, with many new challenges yet to come. Get ready to take on all of them!

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