The Death of the Browser

internet explorerI wrote yesterday a bit about the evolution of the devices that we use, but today I want to talk about a much more substantive change that is happening. There is a generational shift in the way people use the Internet and people under 30 years of age are using the Internet in a fundamentally different way than older people. This is starting to manifest itself in the services that are available over the Internet and we are reaching a point where it is going to affect what is available to everybody.

I’ve written before about how differently young people today use video. They rarely watch video in a linear fashion from the beginning to the end of a show. They would rather look at a highlight of a movie on YouTube than actually watch the movie. They generally are multitasking when watching anything and they don’t give video their undivided attention. One of the most popular ways for them to watch video is in the 7-second film clips on Vine.

The same fundamental differences are also there in the way that younger people use the Internet. People of this younger generation have now been raised on smartphones. And from that experience they predominantly prefer smartphone over PCs and tablets. You can see it in everything they do. They hate email and rarely use it. They instead text or chat with others directly. They don’t like sites like Facebook because the communications are too linear for them and instead use sites like Reddit, Imjur, 4Chan and 9gag, which are more akin to the way they communicate.

One of the biggest differences is that young people don’t use browsers and don’t even much like PCs or tablets. When people over 30, like me, think about the Internet we are really thinking about the browser experience. That means using programs like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Firefox. That is how we navigate the web, find information and communicate. We all learned the Internet with the AOL or similar browser and we still use the Internet in pretty much that same way. We generally drive our web experience based upon a browser and an email reader. We use Google to search for websites we are interested in. The way we use the web is very linear and based upon reading web sites, playing games, reading emails.

But younger people prefer the smartphone over the PC or tablet. To them computers are what they are forced to use for schoolwork, but the smartphone is where they do everything else. They assemble a pile of individual apps, each one to do a specific task. They are quick to swap any one of these apps when something better comes along. This is backed up by surveys. Pew Research Group has shown that 74% of teenagers use the Internet from their cellphone and 55% of them only use the cellphones to be on-line.

This trend is having a big influence on what is being developed for the web. It’s projected this year that web hits from cellphones will surpass hits from PCs and tablets, and so the Internet is flipping from PC-based to smartphone-based. We’ve already seen this in the marketplace where there are now major applications like WhatsApp that don’t even have a desktop equivalent. We also see PC staples like Facebook now being released as a series of apps rather than as a unified platform.

As more and more development is done for apps rather than for PCs, users of PCs are going to start falling out of the mainstream. And I get this, to some degree. I get my news from Flipboard, an application on my smartphone because it beats anything I have found on the PC. And most older users have a few apps they like, but as a group they mostly still use browsers. But as more and more new things are developed only for smartphone, older users will be lured more and more towards apps. In not too many years new development of the browser is going to die, and a few years after that the browsers will probably die.

I am not much enticed by the things that kids like today and I would rather be shot than spend an afternoon watching Vine. But when it comes down to being productive and actually getting work done, I turn to my PC or laptop. I am a PC man through and through, and if it comes down to it, you’ll have to pry my PC from my cold dead hands!