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TechnologyOct 02, 2012

Playing the Long Game

Tim Sporcic

how google and apple win

Mobile App Hackathon at the AT&T Foundry

Two weekends ago I participated in my third local Mobile App Hackathon at the AT&T Foundry in Plano. The Foundry is a great collaborative space, and these hackathons are always a lot of fun. I use them as a chance to try out technologies to see how they hold up under stress, namely me being the one stressed.

This past hackathon had a twist to it: the focus was on education. The organizers had invited teachers and teams from local high schools to participate, so it was a much younger crowd. The youth of the high school kids did not detract from the enthusiasm, nor the level of technical expertise being demonstrated. The top two winning teams for this event consisted of high school kids.

The most interesting thing was not that a bunch of teenagers won, it was how they won. These kids were writing native iOS and Android applications. There was no HTML to be found.

A few short years ago, a generation of future programmers would have been cutting their teeth on Ruby or Java – all targeted towards the web. Today’s best and brightest are bypassing the web and targeting native applications for mobile devices.

Imagine the impact this will have when taken at a broader scale. There is a whole generation of future programmers who have the same comfort for Objective-C or Android as I had for Basic or Java. As a Java developer, Objective-C makes my eyes bleed, but we’re grooming a generation for whom Objective-C is as natural as HTML.

This is how Apple and Google win the long game. We’re still in a Web 2.0 era, but if the follow-on generations are perfectly comfortable, and prefer, writing native mobile applications, there probably won’t be a Web 3.0. The next generation is going to use the web as a RESTful API, not as an application platform.

This will change a lot of the dynamics of software development a decade from now. It explains why Microsoft has to get it right with Windows 8, because the desktop and web could be looked at as a nostalgic period in history, similar to how I look back at the BBS era and 14.4K modems. This paradigm shift should also scare Facebook and other web-only companies. It is incredibly hard to monetize mobile as a web platform, so they’ll have to adjust or perish.

Technology leaders need to keep an eye on what tomorrow’s best and brightest are doing. The future could see a lot more curly braces (Android) and square brackets (Objective-C) than angle brackets (HTML).