A Scenic Tour of the Online World

Are Apps On Their Way Out?

Friday, September 16th, 2011

I know, it sounds like insanity, if not heresy, to suggest that apps, in all their current popularity, are on their way out, but I’ve got reason to believe. Three reasons to believe, in fact.

1. Multiple platforms add to development expense
2.Apple’s exorbitant cut of the action is, well, exorbitant
3. Browsers are becoming more full-featured
4. HTML5 will make it easier to provide richer experiences

Multiple Platforms Add to Development Expense
iPhones still have a big lead in terms of number of handsets sold, but there are already more Android phones out there than iOS phones. Lots of Android choices, just one iPhone. That means you can’t ignore the Android market. Developing for both requires separate testing processes, adding to development budgets. (And this just as developers were cheering the demise of IE6, which had long complicated development and testing …)

Not that anyone’s crying for their development team. But they are crying for their budgets. Any change that makes it easier to develop across platform will be welcomed with open arms. (Which isn’t to say that better development tools won’t ease this burden, but a move to the browser should make the transition smoother and faster.)

Cracking The Golden Egg
Apple takes about a third of whatever you charge for your app in the online store. We’ve seen some interesting work-arounds (like giving the app away and charging for the desktop component that synchs your data) but that’s not always an option.

So it’s another case of following the money. Any change that makes it less costly to serve your mobile market is going to be welcomed with those same open arms.

[It will be interesting to see if Apple reacts to this threat by lowering their fees. Their arrogance has frequently served them well in the past, but I wonder if this becomes a repeat of Mac vs. Windows. Macs are niche products and probably can attribute a generous portion of their market share to the iPod / iPhone / iPad halo effect. With Android a viable option, they may find themselves marginalized again.]

Browsers Move Front And Center
But what about losing your mobile audience? Keeping two-thirds of a big market is better than 100% of nothing, right? Well, yes. But as your average user becomes more and more comfortable working in the browser on their desktop, they’ll become more receptive to doing the same on their mobile devices. You won’t lose them with a move to the browser the way you almost certainly would today. I don’t expect this to happen overnight, but could certainly see it happening in the next 18 months. And as the novelty of apps wear off, we might see the transition gain speed.

Richer Experiences Via HTML5
Also in the next 18 to 24 months, I would also expect to see more complete and consistent implementation of HTML5 across browsers and mobile devices. The richer experiences that HTML5 will allow may just bridge the gap between the typical app experience and the typical mobile browser experience.

Still think it’s a crazy idea that The Age of the App may come to an end sooner rather than later?

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