Decline of the Browser

Perhaps it's just me, but I'm noticing a trend in my internet use. My regular internet use is happening more and more on a 'mobile platform' - that is to say, the vast majority of my general internet use in terms of time spent accessing/reading/'consuming' things from the web happens on my iPad or my iPhone. This probably isn't so surprising, and for those of us on the bandwagon it's a pretty common experience.

Perhaps more surprising though is the change in my method of access in software terms.

When the iPhone was new (and presumably this was the experience on Android too) most of it's advantage over the phone I used previously was it's web browser. Bigger, touch-sensitive screens and all that are great, but the browser is what made that hardware into something useful. It was the first browser on a phone that actually rendered real webpages and it did so in a wholly usable way. This was great; the majority of things I could do on my PC that didn't involve playing video games I could now do on my phone. Safari was the most used 'app' in my computing world for, well, probably a couple of years. This trend in use was supposed to drive the HTML 5 and web-app paradigm to a glorious future.

And now a few years later, Safari still gets used fairly often, but in terms of timeshare it looses out to a handful of third-party apps. When I want to read an article on the web I have Instapaper and Reeder (and have thrown sites out of my subscription list if they truncate articles in RSS), for the news I have Flipboard (which borrows from Safari technically), for social networking I have Tweetbot, Netbot and the Facebook app. Very quickly, all those jobs that Safari used to do have migrated to specialist native apps - pretty much the opposite of the environment that HTML 5 and web-apps had promised.

Perhaps this is something of a transition phase, as developing 'desktop equivalent' applications for the web still falls short in many areas compared to the native app experience - or perhaps it is evidence that for the moment the old software paradigm is still preferable/advantageous for reasons more subtle.