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The Web as a UI Implementation Layer

The web is fulfilling the promise of Java: write once, run anywhere.

For us as UI designers this is particularly exciting. The web is increasingly used as a UI implementation layer.

This means that as technical designers we have way more control about things that were outside of our realm years ago.

Whereas we used to send over specifications describing what an animation should look like, now we can directly send over the animation.

When the original iPhone was introduced in 2007, the first idea was to not have an App Store and to only go with web apps. The hardware at the time proved to be too slow for this, and Apple turned around and created the App Store. The web wasn’t ready back then to compete with native.

Fast forward 10 years later and the web is returning as the driving technology behind major apps.

The web is more than fast enough to serve most needs. There are specific instances where it’s better to go native, but the web’s performance is more than fast enough for most business needs.

For a few years we’ve had a “native vs. web apps debate”. Which is better and why? This discussion is becoming irrelevant because the main argument of the “native apps side”, which was performance, is fading.

Just a month weeks ago Microsoft announced their open sourcing of ReactXP, a framework they built to deliver a cross-platform of Skype across a multitude of platforms. While a bit different in nature than Electron once again the backbone for the UI layer is HTML and CSS.

Do you watch Netflix? The player is made with React. And all of this is really just HTML, CSS and Javascript.

The hardware is getting better and phones are getting fast enough to handle what you throw at them.

Tech like service workers helps applications to run background tasks; and to have offline capabilities.

Rendering engines have become more powerful. Parties like Google and Microsoft have put enormous efforts into making sure their Javascript engines get faster and faster as time goes by.

Exciting CSS tech like flexbox and CSS grid pretty much beat anything you can do layout-wise in native apps. It’s a good time to be a UI designer while knowing HTML and CSS.

P.S. We are hiring a new user interface designer. Is that person you? Get in touch with a link to your portfolio.

Johan Ronsse

About the author

Johan Ronsse is an interface designer who is trying to find the balance between aesthetics and usability. He tweets as @wolfr_2.

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