A Scenic Tour of the Online World

More Mobile Browsers vs. Apps

Friday, October 7th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post arguing that apps would become a footnote sooner rather than later, and that a more full-featured mobile web experience replace apps. The full post is at the link above, but basically, I argued that it’s all about the money: multiple platforms add to development expense, Apple’s huge cut is another huge monetary disincentive, and as mobile browsers improve and things like HTML5 are adopted more broadly, there will be a migration away from those expenses.

Here’s more on the same debate, which I think is one of the most interesting and important things being discussed in the online marketing / online communications world.

First, we have Jakob Nielsen weighing in with his Mobile Usability Update that makes the fairly obvious conclusion that mobile usability still ain’t great, but it’s improving and apps still score higher than mobile websites in terms of user experience.

No surprises there. The gap between apps and mobile web browsing is pretty significant, and it isn’t going to close overnight. So nothing to make me change my mind. Yet.

But, others feel the experience is so much better in apps that the web can’t catch up. An article on ReadWriteWeb quotes two very prominent geeks, one on each side of the debate. They point out valid issues with the general web, its governance, and the difficulty in being innovative within those limitations. The other side of the coin points out some of the same things I’ve discussed about app development, the lack of control developers have, etc.

Be sure to check out the comments. They’re as interesting as the post itself.

And then there’s this report on mobile commerce from Internet Retailer.

The title is a bit misleading – “Moosejaw sees a site-less future for mobile commerce” – since Moosejaw (an outdoors retailer) isn’t moving from a mobile site to  an app, but moving from a mobile specific site to a mobile-aware site with an experience more closely aligned with their standard desktop browser experience. That fits my feeling that we’re moving away from apps with the growing acceptance of HTML5.

So I’m sticking to my guns. Anything that improves the user experience (apps) is great and will be rewarded in the marketplace immediately. But anything that adds complexity (having to develop for Android and iOS and WindowsOS) also adds expense and hassle.

As HTML5 helps fuel more interesting user experiences in the mobile browser, apps lose. Especially as developers implement seamless integration across devices in ways that apps can’t touch. (Like having the preferences you set on your desktop about which cities to check on accuweather.com, for example, ported to your mobile device.)

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