Jason Kim's Blog

Unfortunate State of Mobile Web


  • Mobile web sucks and mobile native apps are way better.
  • HTML5 is not a Messiah.
  • no one is really interested in making mobile web better.

Imagine that we are in 2020, 6 years away from now.

We wouldn't have quite gone boldly where no man had gone before in our universe, but we would have at least explored mobile experience tirelessly by then. Thousands of photos apps would have been made. WhatsApp copies would have iterated upon iterations. First there was Angry Bird, then Flappy Bird, then some more Angry Flappy Birds. Dead horses would be beaten more than one can count. So much would have changed and improved, but one thing still remains the same. Mobile web experience will likely still lag behind the native app experience.


Inability of browsers to take advantage of phone hardware has been stated as a reason why mobile web is lagging behind the native app. But I cast my skepticism cautiously.

Changes in HTML5 in recent years have been absolutely mind blowing. You can replicate native app experience on browser (though it is not easy). HTML5 in many ways have caught up to where native apps are right now. Optimization on browser for mobile still remains as a difficult task, but so is developing for native app. So what is dragging mobile web experience down?

A Vicious Cycle


Mobile web development process is in a gridlock that continues to worsen mobile web. The incentives for users, management and developers are all uniformly against mobile web. Users have a preconceived notion that mobile web sucks, and this belief is justified. It sucked for a long time, and even today, it's not that great. Software companies are aware of this consensus and devote less time and developer resources into making mobile web experience better. Mobile space for native apps, they say. Web developers return the favor by creating a web app that barely meets the minimum expectations set by the management. I want web to win, but I am not optimistic about it.

Mobile web is suffering from a great stagnation. Effectively distributing mobile web app to users are practical non-existent. Lack of standardized monetization scheme hinders any development effort in mobile web. Much of the web still remains apathetic to mobile users. Discovery process of mobile web? What discovery process? And mobile web still feels clunky, slow and off-beat. Mobile web experience is years behind native app experience. In the age when a year represents an eternity of changes and improvements, mobile web will not be able to attract users from native app for another few years.