We Don't Need Ecosystems

What's an "ecosystem" is probably the first question on your mind. Well, I'll explain. An ecosystem is any suite of apps or services that are interoperable. The "Big Five" Internet giants of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon all employ this to some extent. They offer you tools and services that work seamlessly on all of your devices. It's very useful for the average user but I'll explain why this is no longer necessary.

We're entering an interesting phase in computing history. Many of the features offered by these companies can be set up and maintained by the individual without requiring a Computer Science degree. The only blocker to this is knowledge. Not technical knowledge (although this helps) but knowing that the tools are even out there. Most people are totally unaware.

I'm sure you've heard of HTML regardless of your skill level. The basic markup language used to create web pages. You see, most websites are no longer static pages with text and images. They're applications in their own right. Many sites actually function like desktop or mobile apps. Look at stuff like Google Docs and you'll see what I mean. This type of functionality was only available by purchasing a Microsoft Office licence not too many years ago. Now you can have a no-cost, full-featured office suite simply by creating a Google account.

The great thing about web development nowadays is most sites are actually not just pages but applications also. If you want the quick and dirty route to see what I'm blathering about just visit a page in your mobile browser. In the settings of the browser you'll likely have an option to save it as a shortcut to your devices home screen. Looks an awful lot like an app, doesn't it? Food for thought.

Why am I focusing so much on the web? Well, the web is independent. HTML and most of the technologies or languages that go into creating your favourite website are not owned by any one company. Anyone can pick up these tools and create something with them without paying anyone a dime. This gives us some exciting options for the future of apps.

This raises the potential of apps that work across devices regardless of software or manufacturer, whether they're iOS, Android or whatever Blackberry is doing these days. I don't mean you install apps by saving a site to your home screen as a shortcut but it's the same principle. The apps would be web applications wrapped in a minimal web browser. You won't see any of the menus that would normally be visible in a full web browser. The application itself is the only thing that will be visible and it will provide all of the functionality needed.

There are some challenges to overcome though before this can be become a reality though. The device you're using has all sorts of hardware features that need to be supported. When you write an iPhone app for instance there are ways to let the app use the accelerometer to detect motion or the location services to access GPS. Web technologies do support these to some extent but this will ultimately remain at the discretion of the company who made the device or software.

The great thing about this approach is that it allows anyone who can write a web application to also write an app. There's no restrictions to what you can publish and no "lock in". Also the user who wants to use your app can simply download it from anywhere. No app store needed.

This is by no means a fully formed idea and I have not thought about the finer details of implementing this. It is just one slice of the pie. There are many other facets of ecosystems that can be made more open and less controlled by monolithic tech giants.  This is a step in the right direction though. Basing our software off open, freely available and unrestricted technologies is good news for everyone.