Web vs Apps, Year 4

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Today, BusinessInsider - about whom I should write more, as their "Top Stories" have become more sales promotion and less news, and thus I look forward to receiving their updates less than I used to, but that is for another day - published a piece by Alyson Shontell about the future of mobile apps. In short, they see mobile apps migrating towards the Web, with native apps more like bookmarks or small content holders.

I have been writing about this topic for some time, mostly from the perspective of the vendor's, or development, cycle. I first approached this from Apple's incentives perspective back in March of 2011, then again from the customer and developer perspective in January of 2012. Shontell, on the other hand, approached it from a market approach. With 500MM+active Websites, there just isn't enough screen real estate, even on the iPad 18 Plus Plus Plus, for even a tiny fraction, less than 1%, of those sites/applications.

To their credit, I suspect Google and Apple have been (at least subconsciously) aware of this for some time. Each is trying to get you to go through their search or similar apps, so you "only" need a few apps, which will help you get there. Each has their own motivations:

  • Google: Google earns its revenue ($16.5BN last quarter alone) off of advertising to people who search on the Internet. Essentially, their acting as a gateway to, well, everywhere for billions of users is what gives them prime position to sell advertising space. You as the user don't need to know every page that has "instructions for knitting a blanket", since Google will take you there. You don't even need to remember most URLs. I would suspect that "return" or "repeat" searches are as valuable to Google as new searches, if not more so. If that assumption is correct, then apps like Evernote represented a serious challenge to Google. Why they were culturally incapable of developing it on their own is a story for a follow-up.
  • Apple: Apple is (or should be) as afraid of the Web as Microsoft was back in the 1990s. One could argue that the Web was the single biggest enabler of moving beyond Microsoft Windows. Entire *aaS industries simply could not have existed without the Web. If the mobile platform becomes nothing more than, well, a platform, the Apple ecosystem becomes much less valuable. Some people will always prefer the fancy hardware, but, as Apple's ads tout, hundreds of millions of apps in the ecosystem, and the best and first ones at that, are of enormous marketing value.

It was always possible that other dynamics would drive an extended stay in native mobile apps, but the issue appears to come back again and again. In short:

  • I believe developers do not want mobile apps, but are working with it.
  • Corporations absolutely prefer the Web, for reasons of management control, costs, and the ability to speak directly with the customer, i.e. not through the gauntlet of Apple's App Store or Google Play.
  • Customer want it, although to a lesser degree.

I like Shontell's perspective, since in the end, the market always decides. Does the real estate matter? That, in the end, is up to the customer.