Over the past 20 years, the web has evolved from a basic document sharing network to a platform capable of doing things we didn’t even know to be possible at the time of its creation. The web has struggled in adapting to its users needs since its inception, and as the web grew many mistakes were made only to be solved later on. Plugins such as Flash and Silverlight were given the chance to dominate the market because the web itself was still crawling and not ready to walk yet. The landscape changed completely when the smartphone revolution had people leaving their desktops (and plugins) behind and settling for a far smaller and less powerful device instead.
Nearly 10 years after the original iPhone had people lining up outside of stores, the web has still not conquered the mobile front completely. The ‘mobile’ web’s capabilities are behind that of native apps or even desktop browsers. Flash might have been killed but that didn’t made HTML5 king yet. However, more and more developers are choosing it to develop their mobile experiences. Gartner says by the end of 2016, more than 50 percent of Mobile Apps deployed will be hybrid.
Tools such as React Native and Phonegap (Cordova) offer a great alternative for web developers to use web technologies to build native apps. Hybrid approaches are time- and cost-effective: Rather than build an app from the ground up for each mobile platform, developers can write HTML5-based code once and tweak it to redeploy for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, etc.
Around this time last year Mozilla release A-Frame. Although it didn’t get the attention it deserved it is truly an amazing library. Built on top of Three.js A-Frame allows developers to create web based Virtual Reality experiences. I’ve played around with it myself and I have to say that it is a great library. The problem is, VR wasn’t as big as everyone thought (hoped?) it would be. VR may one day become very normal, but it will never get people that excited.
Companies and individuals will always need the web; an app usually contains less content than a website. Take mobile banking for example. You can probably do a lot in the app, but usually not everything. Websites are affordable, accessible and relatively easy to make, and the open source community behind the web has made the web increasingly better in recent years.
Frameworks like jQuery and Bootstrap have made the web more accessible for developers of all skills levels. For a while it looked like Angular was going to be the next big thing. However, the second backwards incompatible installment hasn’t reached the same heights set by its predecessor. There are plenty of other excellent MV* libraries out there; Backbone, Knockout, Ember and Vue just to name a few, so developers have no need to stay with Angular, especially if their old code doesn’t work anymore anyway.
I think it is fair to say that the future of web development will mostly rely on React. The Facebook powered library has taken the web development community by storm and has solidified itself as the go-to library, without overdoing itself like Angular. I think the biggest challenge React will face in the future is widespread adoption. So the real question is, do websites really need React?
The web is still growing at a steady rate and will continue doing so for a long time to come. As of now an estimated 3.4 billion people use the internet, that is nearly half of the world’s population. As the other half comes online the web will be faced with its biggest demon one more time; browser support. Most of the new users getting online these days live in emerging economies and even third world countries, so they won’t be coming online on a brand new Macbook with Chrome 53 installed. If they’re lucky they’ll have a Samsung Galaxy S2 with an old Android browser.
This leaves web developers with a different problem. How can they make websites accessible to these new users that don’t have the latest features and top speed internet connections? A lot of businesses are probably missing out on a lot of potential users because of this. It is estimated that by 2020 another 350 million people will be using the web in India, that is more than the population of the United States.
In order to reach these new users, websites will need to be made more lightweight and accessible than ever. Even though it is not a website, a great example of this is YouTube Go, a new lightweight version of YouTube made especially for users like those in India who don’t have access to high speed internet. Notice how they’ve optimized their app to be more usable in these situations through small changes that didn’t cost a lot of time to make. The hardest part is seeing these small details that need to be changed in your app, without being in this position yourself. Google CEO Sundar Pichai recently explained how “solving [problems] for India is inspiring new Google innovations” around the world, so maybe less is more after all. Which why I don’t think React is going to get the widespread worldwide adoption that jQuery has. Not because it isn’t good, but because it just isn’t needed yet.
One thing’s for sure, the web is here to stay. For post-millennials (the Igen) the web is no longer just a technological innovation, it is a part of who they are. The next war is going to get fought on the web. The next revolution is going to take place on the web. The next leader of the free world is getting chosen on the web right now.
However, the web’s best quality is that it is open for everybody. Nobody owns the web, or in contrast, everybody owns the web. But not everybody is cashing in on their ownership rights.
Maybe one day some time from now the difference between being illiterate and literate won’t just be about being able to use words, but being able to code (writing), or at least understand code (reading). It is scary how many people rely on something they don’t even remotely understand. Like Steve Jobs once said, “The smallest company in the world can look as large as the largest company in the world on the web,’ and that is true till this day.