A little disclaimer before reading this post. I recently attended the Breaking Development Conference which focuses on Web Design and Development for Mobile Devices. I’m so fired up about mobile web, that I might come off a little bias here.
In August, 2010, Forrester coined the term “App Internet“. What does the App Internet mean? “The Web, as the dominant software architecture of the Internet, is dead.” But, since then we have only seen the mobile web progress with the help of HTML5, APIs and mobile web frameworks like jQuery Mobile, Sencha and jQ Touch. In my opinion, it seems that the “mobile app fad” is dwindling down due to progressive web enhancements making mobile web more accessible across multiple platforms and older browser/device versions.
At a high level, the problem with native apps is that they must be downloaded to your device, and it’s becoming too much trouble to organize and maintain ALL the apps and scroll, scroll, scroll all the way down to find the one you’re looking for. Sure, you could keep adding them to your home screen, but where does it end? It’s not realistic to have an app for every store you buy from or every website you visit.
As mobile web improves, users will be more likely to take advantage of the idea of “use it and lose it”. Meaning, they don’t need to go through the pain of finding and downloading an app when they can open a browser based web app, use it, and move on.
We need to follow the trend of moving away from the downloadable app as companies like Google are providing browser based alternatives such and Google Docs. With Google Docs you can create a document, presentation, spreadsheet, etc. Keeping everything in The Cloud, you eliminate the need to install an application like Microsoft Office for instance.
As an advocate for the mobile web, I may be a little bias, but I don’t think you would be making a mistake by only offering a mobile web experience. I think to be able to iteratively launch enhancements and functionality without going through the pains of building apps, learning device specific languages (i.e. Objective-C for iOS), dealing with 3rd party developers and going through the approval process with Apple, this is not necessarily the wrong approach.
I also understand that some apps have the need for the camera or push notification for instance. These are things that mobile web are not yet capable of, but will be within time. If these features are a must have for your app, then by all means go native. These are business decisions that mobile web cannot accommodate as of yet.
You can utilize tools like PhoneGap to help deliver native apps to users that would prefer. The advantage of using PhoneGap is that it would be a replica of the mobile web experience as PhoneGap allows you to take your existing web app and export it for whatever device platform necessary.
At the end of the day, I don’t think mobile web is dead, and no the app stores aren’t going anywhere. Companies will have a need for one or the other or both. But, to say “The Web, as the dominant software architecture of the Internet, is dead.” might be going a little too far. And the time between when that article was written and now has proven otherwise. Forrester is even now saying that the Web vs App debate is irrelevant. What a difference a year makes.
What are your thoughts on the Mobile Web vs App debate?