Cale Byers

Websites are generally better than apps

August 3, 2017

I'm tired of the app obsession. A lot of people are starting to realize that digital stuff isn't working out so well and adversely affecting our lives. So the trend is over, and people are recovering and changing their behaviors. Film photography is in no risk of dying out, and newspaper subscriptions, whether in print or digital, are going to become the norm. The low-quality garbage advertising networks will burst. Things will change, and our attention spans and lifestyles will improve once we decide to avoid addictive digital services.

But back to the app thing: I can accomplish most of the things I need to do without using a mobile app. Web versions generally work good enough, and they give me more control over how my information is handled.

When they don't work good enough, it highlights bad development practices, and I enjoy seeing how poorly some sites are designed. Observing what not to do is a valid way of learning good development and design.

I've gotten used to using ugly websites. I deliberately break them. I block external resources, surveillance software, web fonts, and other unnecessary bloat. I don't care about sleek, "minimal" sites that depend on 53 scripts to generate a damn website. (Squarespace, Wix, etc). I use the HTML version of gmail, and I love it. It loads instantly. It uses no JavaScript. And it's simple.

I also use to check my notifications periodically. It's very small and fast. There's no endless scrolling. You have to click to see more stories, and this extra barrier helps me minimize my wasted time. There are no tracking scripts, although Facebook still logs information server-side regarding which photos, posts, and profiles you click. Every external link filters through their tracking system:[Link to your Website]+more tracking parameters

Lately I've been realizing that difficult communication and interaction is a useful way to weed out wasted or low-value aspects of our lives. I don't use Snapchat, because it's too easy to use. It enables communication between people that don't really care about each other enough to text or call or spend time face-to-face. I don't have enough time or focus to waste my attention on acquaintances.

In the same spirit, I also hate texting. I want to hang out with people in real life. It's difficult, it's awkward, and it takes time. But what most people don't realize is that they're already wasting time, already socially awkward, and already making things more difficult than they need to be. Put down your damn phone, and spend time with people you actually care about.

I would rather have extra space on my phone than use a mobile app. Firefox OS was and still is a great idea. Most apps could stand alone as a webpage and function just as well.

People have wasted so much time developing gimmicky apps, when they could have focused on building a usable website.

Bank of America's mobile app is a pain in the ass to use. It logs you out needlessly, and so I might as well just use the damn web version.

I've found that nearly all banking websites are absolute shit. They redirect you to mobile versions, they load tons of JavaScript, and they don't reliably work. The BofA mobile login makes 52 network requests, before I've even tried to login. Wtf??? Seriously? And it doesn't work. Often I have to reload multiple times, reload without content blockers, change my autofilled password, or toggle the option to "remember me" before it finally logs me in.

And Citi is an absolute mess. I sometimes can't even login whatsoever. It's horrendous. We don't need to be constantly bombarded with notifications, and we don't need to recklessly share our location, contact lists, or photo libraries with apps. Why on earth would I choose to install the CNN app? I have almost zero control over blocking malicious tracking scripts or preventing them from gathering my device's information. The only real option is to adjust your DNS or use some network management outside of the app, to block specific domains.

Or I can just use their website, save space on my phone, and block ads with any number of tools for the browser. As far as I can tell, the only reason to install this app is to receive notifications. We don't have enough time in our day to let people hijack our attention. I'll decide when I want to read the news, thank you very much.

So enough with the mobile app banners and self-promotion. I know you've got an app. I'm just choosing not to use it.