A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Apps vs. The Open Web, Continued

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

I’ve written before about the difference between apps and the web, and whether the current love of apps – they are sexy at the moment – will continue to grow, or will fade as HTML5 and other improvements allow for in-browser experiences as rich as the best apps are providing now.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently released survey results on this same app vs. web topic. Some interesting details to be pulled from their findings.

There is still a feeling that there is significant risk (or opportunity, depending on your viewpoint) of fragmentation of the web overall as apps continue to gain ground. I would add that the race by everyone from Amazon to Apple to Barnes & Noble to Google to Microsoft to be our “content provider” of choice is at the heart of this: my app store isn’t compatible with your app store, my ebook reader isn’t compatible with your ebook reader, and so on.

At some point, consumers get tired of this and make a choice. Damn few homes had both a Betamax and VHS player back in the early days of home videotape. I bet damn few have both a Nook and a Kindle. Or an iPad and an Android tablet. (If you have a Nook, a Kindle, an iPad AND an Android tablet, and you were wondering whether or not you’re a geek, wonder no more …)

I love the fact that “the survey questions are written to generate detailed written responses, not to derive a clear-cut statistical outcome” so the responses provide much more depth and nuance than most surveys. The summary of the responses is well worth the few minutes it takes to read.

The bigger picture:

59% agreed with the pro-web position:

In 2020, the World Wide Web is stronger than ever in users’ lives. The open Web continues to thrive and grow as a vibrant place where most people do most of their work, play, communication, and content creation. Apps accessed through iPads, Kindles, Nooks, smartphones, Droid devices, and their progeny—the online tools GigaOM referred to as “the anti-Internet”—will be useful as specialized options for a finite number of information and entertainment functions. There will be a widespread belief that, compared to apps, the Web is more important and useful and is the dominant factor in people’s lives.

And 35% agreed with the opposite, pro-app statement:

In 2020, most people will prefer to use specific applications (apps) accessible by Internet connection to accomplish most online work, play, communication, and content creation. The ease of use and perceived security and quality-assurance characteristics of apps will be seen as superior when compared with the open Web. Most industry innovation and activity will be devoted to apps development and updates, and use of apps will occupy the majority of technology users’ time. There will be a widespread belief that the World Wide Web is less important and useful than in the past and apps are the dominant factor in people’s lives.

In some regards, the apps vs. web argument seems to trace the lines between “information wants to be free” and “publishers need to monetize their work.” But there may be a third way. It seems that plenty of respondents think the division between apps and the web is manufactured, a forced way to frame the issue that doesn’t reflect reality. I’m not sure that’s true, but I do think that regardless of which emerges dominant, the other will survive, and continue to serve its audience well.

Your thoughts?

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