Every device needs the web

In a widely-linked post to Medium, Daniel Pasco writes about the problem of not having WebKit available on tvOS:

"Webviews are the duct tape of the mobile world. I’d estimate that 50% to 80% of the major apps out there use webviews somewhere within their apps. Apple’s Mail app uses webviews for your email messages, because webviews can style and render the content very efficiently. NetNewsWire uses them prolifically, particularly in a few features we haven’t enabled in the shipping version yet."

I’ve argued on Core Intuition that even with the Apple Watch — as silly as it might seem to want to browse the web on your wrist — there should still be some basic access to the web. If not a full browser, at least a webview so that developers can style short content.

Daniel Jalkut suggests a related compromise for the Apple TV:

"I propose that Apple could strike a compromise that would serve those ambitions while also supporting the tasteful handling of web content in apps. How? By forbidding network access to web content. Apps themselves could still access the network, but not from within their web views."

This is much better, but I think we should aim higher, since giving up on the web seems to admit early defeat to what Daniel acknowledges is probably WebKit’s politically-motivated omission. The web might not be the most usable medium on all devices, but it is arguably the most important one. Just because we all love native apps doesn’t mean we should trade in the significant value that the web provides, especially for independent writing and a permanence that can outlive silos and platforms.

Apple has 4 major platforms now: iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and the Mac. It’s a dangerous precedent for 2 out of those 4 to not have access to the open web. Web services are only part of the story; HTML and the hyperlink are also both fundamental components of web access. A platform is too shut off from the rest of the world without them.

Manton Reece @manton