There is a long debate on Apps versus the Mobile web. There are fans and enthousiast for both sides. Although there are good arguments for apps and mobile sites for example the excellent user experience and device APIs possibilites of applications versus the more easy portability of mobile sites across devices and Mobile Operating Systems.In addition I would say there is even a third dimension in this debate which is the “normal” web, which argues for one web enabled through technologies like responsive designs.
I dont want to provide is this blog post a summary of all the opinions and perspectives already provided by other people, I think we are all aware of these. But I though want to provide a slightly different perspective which is often not taken into account. Most discussions take the advantage of the web as a starting point and assume the web as we know it today (internet via a browser) will stay and survive (why not it is successful after all?). I will not argue totally against this, but I believe this assumption is not necessary true. It would not be the first time in history of technology that a successful technology will be disrupted. Take for example Sms, Analog TV, Compact Discs, Analog Camara’s these are all successful technologies which has been disrupted. So one could argue that the internet browser and sites as a vehicle to consume the internet will be (further) disrupted by Apps. The signals and insights are there that apps are a key vehicle to consume the internet and it’s upwards trend can’t be challenged:
- Apps on Smartphones and Tablets
- Apps on PC and Laptops (e.g. Spotify, Email, Mac Store etc)
- Apps on TV (Google TV, Samsung Smart TV)
- Apps on (smart) watches (e.g. I’m Watch, Pepple)
More and more consumer electronics have an app-based interface replacing the browser as key interface to use the Internet, these Apps are more and more working seamless between different devices (e.g. Spotify, Evernote), resulting that one could question why do you still need the normal web?
One of the counter arguments is often Search, many apps remain less successful than their own website, often due to the searchability of apps and how customer entry a site (via search). Consumer might not have the app installed and still use search to find stuff on the internet. E-Commerce is a key example of this. But this argument does’t necessarily mean that the normal web is there to stay. The question is how can apps solve this counter argument. I think commerce sites like Fancy are already good examples how e-commerce can be appified and I dont think it’s unbelievable that searching and deep-linking within apps is unthinkable in the (near) future.
Another perspective is customer behavior, I think there are two dimensions which influence this possible disruption of the normal web. Firstly, consumer are getting “spoiled” by superb experiences within native applications. Publishers and developers are raising the bar more and more, why would a consumer except something less in the future? Yeah, I know the browser-technology is progressing towards apps, but are we then assuming that App technology will not progress further? With other words, when the browser reach App capabilities are Apps not already ahead of the curve?
Secondly, what will be the main device how people access the internet? In case we see a major shift towards mobile devices (smart phone and tablets) consumer might prefer a small optimized experience through apps instead through a browser? Or when consumer are used to use apps on their TV, Tablet and Smart phone the browser experience might feel uncomfortable. The consumer likely prefers one type of experience across all platforms and not access e.g. Facebook through apps on their TV, Phone, Watch and use a normal browser for their PC.
In summary, one of the perspectives you can take in the Apps versus Browser debate is Disruptive Innovation, meaning who tells us that the browser will not be disrupted in the next 3-7 years? The fact that a technology is succesfull does not argue for per se continuation in the market. Finally to wrap-up this post I believe the customer will remain in the driver seat despite that companies or developers will choose either direction, the consumer is likely to stay with the provider of the best and most convenient experience (solving issues around customer barriers, efficiency and easy to use).
An interesting read on HTML5 and the change from Facebook from HTML5 to Native: .