The debate about Net Neutrality has largely subsided as a result of the FCC’s actions just over a year ago that partially appeased parties on both sides of the debate. But that doesn’t mean debate about the openness of the Internet has subsided; it just has a different focus now.

To put it simply, the current debate is on web vs. apps, with the web viewed as potentially the last bastion of web openness, while apps are viewed as a marketer’s tool that has the potential to turn us all into what one respondent to a new Pew Research Center survey called “app-potatoes.”

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project frames the latest debate in a report titled “The Future of Apps and Web” issued today. Noting that Internet users now spend more time on apps than on the desktop or mobile Web, Pew set out to explore whether the web has longevity or if it is dying.

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The researchers didn’t arrive at a definitive answer. Nevertheless the report offers plenty of food for thought as the researchers’ methodology was to seek out the opinions of Internet thought leaders and to urge them to expand on their answers to a set of questions with written responses. Each question presented two different scenarios for 2020 and asked respondents to indicate which scenario they felt was most likely.

The report authors caution that the report, based on feedback from more than a thousand such thought leaders, is not meant to be definitive. But it does offer some statistics.

For example, 59% of respondents felt the most likely 2020 scenario was that the World Wide Web would be stronger than ever in users’ lives and that apps accessed through iPads, Kindles, smartphones and the like will be useful as “specialized options for a finite number of information and entertainment functions.”

Thirty-five percent of respondents said the most likely 2020 scenario was that “most people will prefer to use specific applications accessible by Internet connection to accomplish most online work, play, communication and content creation” and that “most industry innovation and activity will be devoted to apps development and updates, and use of apps will occupy the majority of technology users’ time.”

Some of those voting for apps to become increasingly dominant saw that trend as a positive one. “Ease of use always wins,” wrote one respondent.

Others were more negative, raising some of the same sorts of arguments that came up in the Net Neutrality debate. “Apps are like cable channels—closed, proprietary and cleaned-up experiences,” wrote one respondent. “Giant interests will push every button they can: fear, inexperience, passivity, and willingness to be entertained. And we’ll get a cleaned-up world that we can be perfectly billed for.”

Some respondents refused to select either of the pigeon holes, instead arguing that in 2020 the Internet would rely on a mixture of apps and the web.

HTML5 could be key
Whether the web can regain ground lost to app developers could hinge on the success of the emerging HTML5 standard, which aims to overcome some of the limitations of the current version of HTML on which today’s web is based. Among other things, HTML5 aims to eliminate the need for plug-ins—a requirement that may have driven some developers to focus on app- rather than web-based solutions.

“Once HTML5 browsers and fully capable web runtimes are in place on the common Kindle through iPhone, the web app will begin replacing native apps,” wrote one survey respondent.

It would be interesting to see how Telecompetitor readers weigh in on this debate.

Image courtesy of flickr user Sean MacEntee.

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