make mobile websites not apps

I recently read a Substack post about Struck, an astrological dating app that was rejected from Apple’s app store 9 times.1 Unfortunately, the post was flagged on Hacker News because the app’s creator claimed that Apple's rejection was a form of discrimination.2 I agree with this claim but that’s not what I'd like to discuss.

It seems that Apple is unwavering in their ideology that the app store should be a closed environment with inconsistent gatekeeping, so as developers we should be thinking about how to circumvent the app store. The most obvious way this could happen is if developers started making mobile websites instead of apps. Remember that the iPhone originally only supported mobile website apps from outside developers.

The full Safari engine is inside of iPhone. And so, you can write amazing Web 2.0 and Ajax apps that look exactly and behave exactly like apps on the iPhone. And these apps can integrate perfectly with iPhone services. They can make a call, they can send an email, they can look up a location on Google Maps.3

I think that this could again be a viable solution. It not only gives developers the freedom to develop whatever they want, but would allow them to build one product that would run across any mobile device with a browser. When I was on Twitter, I would visit on my phone. The overall mobile web experience was basically the same so I never saw a reason to download the native Twitter app.

The app store is such a terrible environment to deal with and the chances of your app trending on the platform is next to none, not to mention the exorbitant Apple developer fee of $100/year. It’s easy to get into the mindset that your app needs to exist in an app store but most apps really don't need to. Discovery is a big part of what the app store offers, but why can't we create an alternative directory on the web? Browser makers could do some work in this arena. Just think of a Firefox mobile web app directory.

1. Original Substack post. (link)
2. Flagged Hacker News post (link)
3. Jobs’ original vision for the iPhone: No third-party native apps (link)