I recently read, and commented on, an article on eConsultancy (Moments in Needless Bi-Polarity: Apps vs the mobile web). However, as I was moderated, I thought that I’d share my thoughts on it here instead. *smile*
It seems that this issue, and the misunderstandings surround it, will not go away. I do agree with much of what Stefan Tornquist had to say in his article. He discussed the idea that the battle between apps and mobile web has been over hyped and, in fact, they should be allowed to complement each other as they serve different purposes (as I may have mentioned before). However, some of the points in his article are likely to confuse the casual investigator.
The game has changed but have the rules?
Apps have changed the rules for; how users interact with our content, how providers communicate and interact with their users, and of eCommerce in general. If your user is using an app then they expect, and indeed need, a different experience from the one provided when attempting to complete the same tasks on their desktop using the web. Many of the interactions that a user may wish to make on their mobile device are simply not possible (or would prove extremely frustrating) on the mobile web.
Can the mobile web do almost everything that apps can do?
As time goes on the divide between apps and web is only going to increase. Even with the arrival of HTML5 apps have so many advantages that the user is going to come to expect as the norm. Facilities like local storage, location awareness, integration with phone and sms services, instant availability of camera to describe issues and faults, and NFC are just a few of the current features that are going to be used in apps to facilitate an experience for the customer which is simply not possible without native integration with the device. These facilities are not available to the web in the same way.
Does that mean that the mobile web will eclipse apps as the primary mobile channel to customers?
I read only yesterday that users are now spending more time on mobile apps than they are on the web. As expected, this has come as a result of apps being used for a different purpose and in a different way to the web. Users are accumulating usage time on apps by actually spending less time on them in one session but engaging in a greater number of sessions during the day. In contrast users are using the web less often but for a longer amount of time each session. A greater number of smaller sessions mean that users are actually using their apps more than they are using the traditional web.
This news comes at the same time that shipments of tablets and smartphone eclipse that of desktops and laptops for the first time. I expect that increasingly we are going to see a generation emerge whose only interaction with the internet is via apps on a mobile device.
Will mobile web eclipse apps in the long term? Put simply. No.
How often do you use the mobile web?
My experience of mobile web has often been frustrating. Before the iPhone came along I’d given up entirely. Yes I wanted the convenience, but the usability was so bad that it made turning on the desktop worthwhile. Now, mobile browsers have come a long way but I still find myself reaching for an app version of the site, tailored to the tasks that I want to complete, rather than using the traditional web on my phone. Amazon, eBay, Twitter, Facebook are all good examples of this. But am I alone? Is there anybody out there that prefers to use the mobile web rather than a native app?
**Edited: 21st June 2011 17:50 – Our friends at ecounsultancy.com have kindly released my original comment from the clutches of the akismet robots. Jolly nice of them too. **