Fooling the natives

It’s not death if you refuse it.” — The Crow

Over the last two weeks I have, inadvertently, conducted a very enlightening experiment on myself. I don’t think it’s repeatable or replicable — like gods interfering with free will or The Truman Show, the experiment doesn’t work if you know you’re inside it — but it’s rather illustrative.

I’m a Google+ user1. And the Android G+ app has been doing this annoying thing recently2 where if I pull down to get new posts, sometimes it doesn’t work. Opening the side menu and closing it again always fixed it, so I put it down to some sort of bug in the G+ app and waited for it to be fixed. Not very patiently.

Other people reportedly didn’t have the problem, so I just put it down to weirdness and carried on. Well. I’ve just, this moment, realised why. When I first factory reset this phone and then started it up for the first time, I didn’t use the G+ app. I used the G+ website and bookmarked it to my home screen. And then, it seems, I forgot that I’d done it.

The actual app doesn’t have the problem.

This is interesting in two ways.

The first and most obvious conclusion is that the web app isn’t quite as good as the native app. Obvious conclusion to draw, and also obviously correct; it had a bug that the native app didn’t, and one could reasonably make the case that it had that bug because it’s a web app and not native.

But. I used the thing constantly for a couple of weeks without realising it was a web app. At no point other than this bug did it betray that it was anything other than the G+ app. Now I compare the two side by side, there are differences, but I didn’t notice them as being worse, or even different; I just used the app and it never occurred to me to question it. More importantly, at no point did the bug make me think that it was because I was using a web app, or question the nature of the app. Plenty of people will say that they’ve used web apps and found bugs and therefore web apps are bad. But I wonder how much that would get said if those people hadn’t known they were using a web app? I just put it down to an app bug; it never occurred to me that it might be because it’s in JavaScript rather than Java, and at no other point and in no other way did the G+ web app give me cause to suspect or even question that it was anything other than the native app.

Now, this is not always the case, by any stretch of the imagination. The Google team put a lot of effort into their web stuff. Most “web apps” betray their true nature constantly. But this shows it’s basically possible. If you don’t have the easy, lazy fallback of blaming any issues on a thing being of the web, then you don’t necessarily think of that as being a problem itself.

This is encouraging.

  1. until they shut it down, which I hope they don’t do
  2. since I switched phones from my old Nexus 4 with dodgy wifi to the newer Nexus 4 which used to be my daughter’s
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  • Stuart Langridge responded at @sil @jaffathecake @aerotwist I don't actually know anybody on the g+ web team, but if you do, tell them as above they're doing a great job
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