The Mobile Internet, Then and Now

Ever since Facebook pivoted to “the metaverse” last October, including renaming itself Meta, I’ve been pondering the technological framing of this move. When he announced the change, Mark Zuckerberg pitched the metaverse as “the successor to the mobile internet.” In other words this new platform (which hasn’t yet been built) will be a mix of virtual and augmented reality, but it will more resemble the relatively closed mobile internet ecosystem rather than the open web. Or at least that’s how I understood Zuckerberg’s remarks.

Meta claims that interoperability will be a key part of the metaverse, meaning users will be able to easily move from one metaverse platform to another with the same set of technologies (virtual reality headsets, augmented reality standards, and the like). Interoperability is built into the World Wide Web, because it is built on open standards. However, as I explained in a column in December, the mobile internet has traditionally been plagued by poor interoperability. I note some examples below.

So, the theme of this edition of Cybercultural is the state of the mobile internet — and how it may apply to Facebook/Meta moving forward.

Notes from the Present 📱

Why Apple’s iOS Browser Engine Monopoly Matters

Dan Shappir, a longtime JavaScript developer, lays it out:

Twitter avatar for @DanShappir

Dan Shappir @DanShappir
Also let’s remember why a browser monopoly is so bad: when IE achieved a monopoly back in the 2000s it resulted in a stagnation of the Web ecosystem, since @Microsoft had no motivation to innovate. These days @Apple is causing the very same stagnation for the mobile Web! ➡️

He goes on to say that Apple “is leveraging its complete browser monopoly on iOS by preventing the adoption of new Web features,” causing web developers to “refrain from using such features in their websites / web-apps because there’s little point in implementing something that won’t work on iPhones.”

The new web features he references include “progressive web apps” (PWAs) — which are enhanced websites that have native app-like functionality. Unfortunately, you often can’t run PWAs on iOS, because Apple’s browser engine doesn’t allow some of the key functionality. So the comparison to Microsoft IE in the early 2000s is apt.

An Example of iOS Stagnation

One example: Apple has only just enabled 3D web development in iOS.

Twitter avatar for @TransmutableNew

Trevor Flowers for Transmutable News @TransmutableNew
I’m happy that Apple implemented WebGL 2.0 for iOS as it will be a boon for 3D on the web. That said, the standard was started in 2015. Google and Mozilla implemented it more than four years ago. This is a great example of how slowly technology can arrive in major browsers.
Twitter avatar for @WebGL

WebGL @WebGL

WebGL 2.0 achieves support from all major web browsers!

A Trendy Mobile App That Still Isn’t On Android

Superhuman is a $30-per-month email app that has gotten a lot of buzz in Silicon Valley and has raised over $100m in VC money. It never formally launched, but those in the know have been using the iOS app since about 2019. The company has been promising an Android and Outlook version for a while now, and it still hasn’t arrived. Using iOS to provide a “velvet rope” around a new startup is a common tactic in Silicon Valley (it worked for Instagram, less so for Clubhouse), but waiting 3+ years for an Android version is pushing it.

Why an Open Platform Matters

This quote from Tim Berners-Lee, the web’s inventor, sums it up beautifully:

“If we can make something decentralized, out of control, and of great simplicity, we must be prepared to be astonished at whatever might grow out of that new medium.”

The mobile internet is controlled by Apple and Google today, which has hampered innovation. So we want the future metaverse to be “out of control” of Meta. Whatever the metaverse version of Superhuman will be, it’d be preferable if it worked for everyone.

Hat-tip Gordon Brander, who tweeted the above quote (from a December 1997 talk by Berners-Lee). p.s. I also tweeted how that TBL quote relates to Web3/crypto, specifically calling out its lack of simplicity:

Twitter avatar for @ricmac

Richard MacManus @ricmac
I love this quote from TBL. It strikes me that the “great simplicity” part is where crypto often comes unstuck. I was researching Polkadot yesterday for potential story, but have put it to one side as the dev platform (and what’s being built on it) is almost incomprehensible.
Twitter avatar for @gordonbrander

Gordon Brander @gordonbrander

“If we can make something decentralized, out of control, and of great simplicity, we must be prepared to be astonished at whatever might grow out of that new medium.” (Tim Berners-Lee)

Gartner Verifies the Metaverse

Again, this technology has not yet been built…

Twitter avatar for @Sam_L_Shead

Sam Shead @Sam_L_Shead
INBOX: Gartner Predicts 25% of People Will Spend At Least One Hour Per Day in the Metaverse by 2026

Clouds? Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Clouds

Speaking of new platforms that may or may not be viable, in my column this week I profiled a new ‘post-cloud’ blockchain from Dfinity called the Internet Computer. It’s being pitched as “build almost anything, dApps without cloud.” I spoke with Dfinity’s Lomesh Dutta to get my head around it. I got the headline btw from this famous Back to the Future clip:

Cybercultural is a free weekly newsletter covering the intersection of tech and culture. If you arrived via social media, sign up here:

Notes from the Past ☎️

10 July 2008: Apple’s App Store Launches

From the ReadWriteWeb coverage:

“As the hype around the iPhone 3G launch tomorrow is kicking into high gear, Apple has released a new version of iTunes, which includes the long-awaited App Store. According to Pinch Media, there are currently 552 applications available in the store. More than 25% of the apps are available for free. Applications from the App Store will run on both the iPhone and iPhone touch after users upgrade to the latest firmware, which will also be released today.”

The App Store on 10 July 2008

Obviously 552 apps available on day one is a pittance compared to today — there are roughly 2.22 million available apps for iOS now, according to Statistica. I recall that on the App Store launch day in 2008, many (most?) people were more excited about the launch of the iPhone 3G — the second generation iPhone. I wrote up a post about it, including an unnecessary gloat about getting my iPhone 3G before many Americans 🙄

My new iPhone 3G in 2008

7 May 2010: RWW Mobile Summit

We held our second “unconference,” the ReadWriteWeb Mobile Summit, in May 2010. It was held at the beautiful Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Silicon Valley. I did a search today and found this TechCrunch video from the event. As Chris Saad noted in the video, a big theme at that time was mobile web vs mobile apps. Of course, apps won out in the end — but in 2010 it was still a debate.

Web 2.0 = Like Apple?

Something I hadn’t heard before about Web 2.0:

Twitter avatar for @josephflaherty

Flaherty.eth @josephflaherty
Or is there another term that non-tech folks have adopted widely?Ex. “Web 2.0” was conversationally rebranded as “Like Apple” by a lot of corporate folks from 2007-2015, as a way to describe “user-friendly” software (despite Apple not being very Web 2.0ish, technically).

Joseph, who is a VC at Founder Collective, further explained:

“…I don’t know if it was widespread, but I was working with a lot of big pharma companies and drug/grocery chains at the time. They had no idea what what web 2.0 was, “read/write,” etc. but they always gestured at what Apple was doing.”

Yahoo! Developer Platform from 2000s

The 2000s was a golden era for using the web as a platform — especially before the mobile internet came along in 2008. Chris Messina tweeted out an old Yahoo! pamphlet from the mid-2000s. Yahoo never was able to get its developer platform off the ground, but at least it was trying to build this on the web platform rather than make it proprietary.

One More Thing 📞

If you’re going to run a proprietary platform, Apple is (apparently) a good role model (via @Andr3jH).

See you next week! Do reach out by email (just hit reply) or on Twitter (@ricmac) if you have any content suggestions, or just want to touch base.