Down With Apps

So, one of the things that really irritates me is when a company only offers functionality via apps. This is especially a problem with IOT devices, most of which will end up in the dump in a few years when there’s no way to install the app that enables them to be configured any more, but it’s also a problem with functionality in general.

There’s some major problems with requiring functionality to require a app to be installed

A: There’s some serious privacy concerns. Most people don’t read the list of privileges the app will have, and they can easily include access to the camera, filesystem, radio modem, etc. Even if the app just sends TCP traffic, the user seldom has much control over what that traffic includes, and that traffic can definitely be identifying

B: It is yet another way that the modern world tries to get you locked into upgrade train. At some point the app developers will stop supporting older operating systems and you will be forced to buy a new phone just to run a app you’re required to have in order to access $FUNCTIONALITY.

C: It is yet another way the modern world tries to get you locked into the throwaway economy, in that the manufacturers will stop maintaining apps for devices and they will become unavailable, at which point the devices will be unconfigurable and have to be replaced.

D: Most of the apps I’ve seen are ridiculously bloated. Taco bell needs 100 megs so I can order a taco? Many of them are also massively wasteful of CPU and/or poorly written. Most of them have at least one bug that will crash the app.

E: As a side effect of #D, there’s no chance that the developers know all the library code that’s in all the apps, or that the end users do. So, the apps also act as a security concern in that they may include libraries with security weaknesses that not even the developers are likely to know about

F: Apps are – generally – not friendly to the blind. There’s also the question of whether we should *require* people to have a smartphone in order to participate in the modern world. A particular company I’d like to underline who has done this but has absolutely no excuse for it is Venmo, who has chosen to remove the payment functionality from their web site in order to force users to install their app – probably partially because they can then sell private data about those users. I have reported them to the ADA in the hopes that it gets them forced to return the functionality to their web site.

In general, I am against the idea of installable apps in favor of web sites. A lot of apps are really just web sites wrapped, and with html5 increasingly we can get access to specialized hardware like GPS and video cameras without needing to install anything.

It strikes me as a dystopian world that requires people to own, not just a smartphone, but perpetually newer models of smartphone in order to participate. I think as end users we should collectively refuse to install apps whenever possible.

Another subject of dystopia that I should discuss in the future is the forced “upgrade” to newer and often worse versions of user interfaces.

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