Break from the future: Hold the new stuff and fix the web first

Hiatus is not a dirty word. Crevice is a dirty word, but hiatus isn't

Peter-Paul Koch, author of The Mobile Web Handbook, published a piece this summer entitled "Stop Pushing the Web Forward".

Koch argued that the relentless pace of new features on the web isn't helping it and that we – developers, along with browser makers – would do well to put on the brakes for a few months.

It's not that Koch is opposed to progress or new features (though he does decry the trend toward slavishly emulating every new feature of platform natives apps), just that perhaps the pace is a bit fast. So fast, in fact, that developers and browser makers are just driving the web forward – there's no direction beyond that.

In other words, in a world where progress is the only goal, Koch wants to talk about where the web is going and why. He thinks it would be nice to freeze the development of new browser features for a while, giving developers more time to understand and use the features the web already has and that in turn would give us a better idea of where the web is lacking – compared to what? – and how to fix it.

Predictably, it earned a backlash. Questioning one of the most fundamental tenants of modern existence – progress is good – gets you some vehement responses.

In this case, though, while Koch's suggestion is obviously never going to happen, it has at least inspired some rational discussion as well, especially with regard to the latest trend in new features for the web – emulating the features that platform-native applications enjoy. This means things like APIs that let sites access device hardware or effects like the proposed Navigation Transitions spec, which makes page-to-page navigation smoother and more like what happens in native mobile applications.

But does the web need these things? "We’re pushing the web forward to emulate native more and more," writes Koch. "But we can't out-native native."

Indeed, native apps will by definition always be ahead of those emulating their features. The quest to make websites behave more like native applications is thus doomed to perpetual failure.

Google's Jake Archibald countered Koch's argument against native emulation, writing: "We should add features using evidence, and native is a great source of evidence."

Archibald cited some specific examples: "Through native, we've seen users benefit from push messaging, offline data access, GPS, speedy payments. Through native we've also seen store management harm openness, packaging hurt linking, and up-front permissioning harm security and privacy."

Prior to native mobile platforms, the web was often measured against competing technologies like Flash, which provided the impetus for native audio and video tags taken for granted today.

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