Every year it's getting more difficult to find a place where there is no Internet access. At the beginning of 2013 an NPD report revealed that Internet-connected devices in the USA outnumbered people, leading to a media storm that predicted robot uprisings and machine apocalypses. Though America constitutes only a fraction of the world and is not a totally all-pervasive mega power, the diffusion of innovations theory hints this US-centric hyper connectivity is only the beginning. The global online population is growing constantly, making the connected world a reality for everyone.
There has been a joke wandering around the Internet lately. It ran "If a person from 1950s travelled to our times what would be most difficult to explain to him? - That I have a device in my pocket that gives access to all information mankind possesses... And I use it for sharing pictures with cats and arguing with strangers". The joke is insightful, not only because it tries to teach us to use resources more effectively, but also because it reflects the way things are now. When the Internet could scarcely be found anywhere, it was expensive, slow, loud and unappealing to consumers. Now the Internet is not only a certain element of reality - it is reality. The web is always in our pocket, on the tips of our fingers, in our ears. Business, communication, joy and entertainment were shifted onto the Internet as the offline world was replicated online.
Software developers were among the first to take advantage of this new reality, developing applications that can be used and are available only through a browser. Development of such apps was a far-sighted step as growing availability of the Internet is going only to increase the popularity of web-based apps. Moreover it is obviously cheaper and easier to build an online one-size-fits-all app than to design it for all devices, Operating Systems and specific platforms. Web apps work virtually on any device that runs a browser.
There are certain facts that make web apps a nice solution for users too. First, users don't have to worry about updates. The web app will always be the last version of itself. Second, as the app does not actually arrive to your device it cannot cause any harm to it. As you don't install anything there is no way a virus can penetrate the system. Therefore no worries as for system security. Moreover, we see a growing tendency of one person owning several devices. To fill them with useful and more or less similar stuff you can use either cross-platform apps which, though being awesome, still do not come along that often. Or you can use web apps, which are available on any device with a browser. What's also nice is that we don't have to go to a webstore or any store and look for an app. We just find it on the net and use it. However, web apps will hardly ever win over "heavy" native software as it needs to employ system resources in order to work properly.
Some online applications have already pushed out their native counterparts long time ago. For example, email. Once when we were young and green we used mostly Outlook Express or Lotus Notes for the purpose. Email service, which naturally needed an Internet connection, was not a web based service. Now most of us access our web based emails from multiple devices. So let's take a look at all those categories of applications which took a serious liking to the Internet.
Online text editors are taking over their offline counterparts especially in cases where collaborative work on a document is needed. This doesn't relate to the cases where complicated text formatting is crucial though. However, common basic needs can fully be covered by such services as Google Docs or Zoho Docs. Google Docs offer a big range of formatting and text editing options. In terms of free collaboration and sharing, Google Docs are ahead, as you can share and work in common for free provided you and your colleagues have Gmail accounts. Zoho Docs pleasure us even with a broader range of features. You can not only create files and download them, but also upload files from your computer or device (most popular formats supported), edit them using the functional not much poorer than the one of Word MS.
Listening to music has gone online even faster than text editors. We've forgotten about overloading our hard drives or device's memories with meters of music bytes. Moreover thanks to all-around available Internet we have broader opportunities for discovering new bands/bits/artists. Online music services are ready to stay our music appetite with no need to download and install anything. This explains growing tendency of changing MP3's for online streaming.
There are several decent propositions on the market. One of them is Grooveshark - a free streaming music service with a deep library and various social networking features. It allows users to upload music and stream it to other listeners. Due to such a mechanism virtually there is no commonly accepted quality standard of the music uploaded, although music quality is satisfactory in general. Soundcloud is another service of the kind. There you can find almost every kind of music from well-known artists to talented beginners, from home made tracks to recorded verse.
The web is full of small accomplished online utilities that perform one function, but do it brilliantly and swiftly. For example, file format converters. With various formats converter by Online-Convert you can upload and convert various audio, video, text, archive formats and download them perfectly converted to your PC or device. Next on the list are dictionaries and translators. Wordreference is nice for one word translation, while with Freetranslation you can render the whole phrases. Another web-goodie on the list is online decompressors. You can unpack archives of almost every format with B1 Online Archiver. Privacy is no problem here as no one but you can see the files you upload and extracted files are deleted few minutes after a you close the page. Online maps found their fair place on the Internet too - where would you find yourself without Google Maps or Bing Maps nowadays?
Now with cameras and Internet in every device, social news feeds are suffocating under the weight of uploaded photos. Competition over who takes the most beautiful pictures is growing. Now taking a photo and putting it just like that on the web is not "comme il faut" and absolutely uncool. Basic editing has become a rule. The web offers many decent picture editing solutions like Fotor, Pixlr and Picmonkey. All of them can be used online on desktop, but to enjoy them mobile you should download the apps. All three offer basic (compared to Photoshop) image editing like cropping, resizing, adding effects, filters, change colours etc. With Fotor you can also create cards, Picmonkey allows to edit your pictures getting them directly from Facebook, Flickr or Dropbox and with Pixlr you can not only edit your photos but also draw them yourself similar to Paint.
Casual gaming for procrastination quickly found its home online. For example, though you might have seen enough of golf-gaming out there, Wonderputt is a real pleasure for eyes due to its polished look and quite an original approach to design. Drifting afternoon is another game of the kind. What makes it cool is a running cat, pastel bubbles and almost lounge music. You just need to make the cat leap from bubble to bubble and enjoy bonuses received. Finally there is Flow. Flow is not even a game in its traditional sense, it is more like a visual tranquilizer and a brain massager. As almost all online games need Adobe Flash Player, there may be trouble with running them on Android tablets or iPhones.
If to analyse what's common among all the apps mentioned and thus what makes them embrace Internet's merits we can easily notice some common details. Web apps usually do not have complicated structure because the only way they interact with device is Internet browser. Virtually their capabilities are limited by those of the browser. They don't use system's resources and therefore cannot fully adjust to specific characteristics of that or another device. However, this doesn't mean they perform badly. On the contrary, developers nowadays do their best to make web apps universally perfect for every device using only one channel - a web browser.
This explains why most successful applications on the Internet are small and compact. Those may also be the apps which require collaborative work, like documents created in common. Or it can be some simple one-purpose small utility. All these features are easily handled by a browser. However, some ten-fifteen years ago no one could imagine even such apps to be fully available online and we can only expect more apps to come in the future.