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The Rich Versus the Convenient

When I look at the evidence, it tells me that more often than not, convenience trumps both features and quality. Which is not to argue that the three need be mutually exclusive, mind, but rather that when there are asymmetries in these qualities, convenience wins.

Which is probably why an entry of Larry Augustin’s on rich client trends made me think of Rafe Colburn quoting James Surowiecki. If you can follow all that. Rafe has Surowiecki saying the following:

I think the Internet and the cable systems have a long way to go before streaming video or even high-definition movies on demand become a meaningful replacement for something like Blu-Ray.

Maybe you caught the implicit assertion in that statement: that the convenience of streaming video will fail to offset the superior quality of the Blu-Ray technology. Because I’m not a consumer products analyst, I’m unable to quantitatively refute that statement, but I can say that it does not reflect the reality that I see.

The few Blu-Ray adopters I know acquired that technology almost by accident, in the form of a PS3 purchase or a gift. The overwhelming majority of non-Blu-Ray adopters I know have either never heard of it, or see little differentiation and, thus, benefit relative to the DVD medium. Right or wrong.

Just about everyone, however, has heard of Hulu and YouTube. Some know BitTorrent. And a growing number are talking about devices like the Roku, which have the ability to stream either Amazon Video OnDemand or NetFlix titles. Why? Because it’s convenient. Because there are virtually none of those things we like to talk about so much: barriers to entry.

Not so for rich clients. Unlike Augustin, I haven’t really noticed that rich clients are back in vogue (amongst users: vendors? totally different story). Now Larry’s a very sharp and very connected guy, so it’s possible that I’m just missing something. But even while I’ll grant that we need some rich clients, I’m just not a believer in them as a volume opportunity (unless you’re Silverlight and you have a monopoly to draw on).

I’m talking about the desktop, of course, primarily. Apple’s 10,000 application strong App Store would seem to indicate that at least on the mobile side, developer interest in rich clients is quite substantial indeed. But even the iPhone apps confirm rather than contradict my suspicions about the viability of the rich client market.

Consider the case of Twitterific, mentioned by Augustin, which is a fine Twitter client for the iPhone, if one that I never actually use. Why not? Because to leverage it, I need to back out to the home page, click the application into existence, wait for it to load, at which point I can get my Twitter fix. Contrast that with the mobile Twitter experience, which basically involves paging to a different browser session. True, the client is less functional – I can’t easily Twitter pictures, for example, from the mobile interface – but I don’t really do that much. Truth is, mobile Twitter and the other web based clients – I use Hahlo – are essentially fine for me. Twitterific buys me little, and is ever so slightly more difficult to use.

Of the other examples mentioned – Facebook, Twitter, Google, Youtube, EBay – I do use the Facebook and YouTube client. The latter because the mobile Safari doesn’t do video, and I love Tom & Jerry, and the former because in recent months the web client has slipped behind the rich client functionally. Not because, I would argue, it’s technically impossible to deliver a comparable experience: we’re not all that distant, after all, from a time when the web app was more functional than its rich client alternative. No, the limited Facebook web app design seems to me more of a conscious decision on Facebook’s part; throttling the feed items on the Facebook browser apps landing page tells me they’d prefer to drive traffic to the rich app. For whatever the reason.

The point being that even on the mobile device, where rich application development is the strongest at present, it’s typically still easier for me as user to default to the browser. And on the desktop, where the browser is more richly functional (with video support, plugins, etc), this seems even more true. Although it is worth noting that the rich client I eschew on the mobile platform – Twitter – is the only real RIA I use at present (Twhirl).

One thing seems self-evident to me – and here Augustin and I are in complete agreement: the browser is not going to kill the native client. We’ll have both indefinitely. But I have to admit that, strategic importance or no, I wonder how much oxygen is really left in the rich client apps space as the browser gets faster and more capable.

Convenience, after all, is tough to argue with.

Categories: Application Development, Desktop, Mobile.

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  • http://www.0xdeadbeef.com/weblog/ Christopher Blizzard

    I would also point out that neither of these – browsers (or the web, really) or rich clients will remain static. As we upgrade the web through browser updates, adding things like rich 3D graphics, video, offline support and fast JavaScript, more and more things will move to the web.

    I never really understood that assertion from Larry that rich clients were growing. It’s true for mobile, I think, where:

    1. The limits of the machine are a problem and require native development.

    2. There are purposefully imposed limits of the vendor’s browser to keep the false scarcity of “real” app development flowing through another non-web delivery mechanism so it can be taxed.

    3. Users aren’t allowed to choose another type of web browser.

    Mozilla’s going down the path of adding things that look like app support – badging, offline, rich graphics and native video support. Because we feel the pressure to improve and bring the web to even more places where it hasn’t before. And that’s accelerating in today’s browser competition. Not getting slower by any stretch.

    Nothing’s more convenient that loading a web page.

  • http://johnsimonds.com john simonds

    CatFishin is my favorite Tom and Jerry.

  • http://www.gandalf-lab.com Niraj

    Convenience is a pre-cursor to the generate the demand for rich is the way I look at.

    Any customer relationship moves through phases of the degrees of commitment.

    As an example: If as a starting point of evaluating Stock-brokers , most of them required me to install software and a few got me going in 2 minutes without any installation – The few would have a clear advantage. Once I zero in on a broker , my demands to get richer features will increase , my commitment to the broker is more and hence my willingness to install a native client from them increases.

    Ditto for the Blu-ray story above. I am not going to commit to getting a heavy blu-ray disk of a movie without really liking the movie or knowing for sure that I will like the movie.