It sounds absurd, doesn’t it? The Internet is the tool that gave us the vast majority of our apps today, from chat apps on phones and computers to every social media platform ever, the internet is why apps look like the way they do today. It’s why we have the apps we have, and it’s how we exist in the digital world.
So what do I mean when I say that the internet is ruining apps? Well, I mean the internet has become so ubiquitous that the offline-first apps that run locally on device are fading into obscurity. Remember when programs (before they were called apps) like Microsoft Word were installed and could run in their entirety without an internet connection? How about a game that offered the full gameplay and features all while being on a device that didn’t even have the ability to go online?
This was commonplace before. It seems that every app, every program, and every microservice has to connect to an API over the web, sync with some cloud infrastructure, fetch new data, and maintain a connection with a broader network just to load a to-do list.
Now, just to be clear, I am a web developer. Working with web-based architectures is how I pay the bills. I work specifically to build these web-first and web-centered applications. I get paid to maintain the current status-quo of API calls and cloud architecture on our devices. I don’t want to say that the internet and web-based applications are all inherently bad, because they’re not. But the reality is that a large portion of the apps we use every day don’t need to be web-first, and they don’t need to be online to function.
Tiktok user @endeavorance summed it up nicely here:
So why?! Why the hell do I have to pay a $5.99/mo fee to have full access to content that I create in a markdown editor?! Granted, the editor is being updated regularly, and that’s a great thing, but at the end of the day, applications shouldn’t require access to some cloud infrastructure for something as simple as text editing. I shouldn’t have to sell my data to a third party just for the privilege of being able to access files I created using specific software.
When did it become acceptable for games on consoles to require an internet connection in order to play? Why does a console need an internet connection for a single player game? The only reason is either a) the app doesn’t include all necessary assets to run the game offline, or b) the company is using the connection to track user behavior and actions. Either way, it’s bullshit.
Modern devices have more than enough storage and processing power to run these applications locally and natively, so if software doesn’t include core assets required to run the program, then the companies are just trying to justify the cloud service by having users pay a subscription fee to access online resources that they need to function. And if that isn’t the case, but the app still needs internet to function, I can only assume it’s because my activity and data is being analyzed and sold to marketing firms as a way to pad the companies pockets with more money, even if it’s not money I am specifically providing.
I do want to point out: the internet on its own is tool with no moral value either good or bad. It simply is. I would argue the internet is the single greatest tool ever built, and it has undoubtedly paved the road for future innovations. But the internet as a tool has no moral value, it has no moral judgement, and it has no intrinsic “goodness” or “evilness” about it.
The issue I have with the way the internet is used in applications today is that it’s not necessary. I love my real-time syncing of data just as much as the next person, but I don’t need it. I don’t need instant access to the one calendar event I just created on all of my devices. My devices can wait to push the changes and pull updates at another time.
Just because an application can be run on a web-first ideology, doesn’t mean it should.
The internet is slowly ruining apps. It’s slowly forcing more and more of our lives into the hands of a small few companies. It’s slowly removing our ability to control our own data. And it looks like it’s here to stay.