Mobile apps vs. the mobile web: Is this the argument mobile developers should be discussing?

May 8, 2014

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Recent research published by Flurry Analytics states that [mobile] apps continue to dominate the mobile web. Popular blogger Chris Dixon generated buzz recently highlighting this research declaring, “The decline of the mobile web” by stating “People are spending more time on mobile vs. desktop, and more of their mobile time using mobile apps.” CNN and the Guardian have also provided similar insight stating people are spending more time using mobile apps than using the mobile web. Does this mean the end of the mobile web and a movement towards a mobile-app-centric world as inferred by these statistics?

Making the case for mobile apps

If you buy the argument that mobile apps are replacing browsers, you could reason that every single website would require an app. At the end of 2013, there were 168 Million active websites – that would require a lot of apps. But, with that many apps, app discovery would be critical to finding anything – you would need an app to just find an app – which means even more apps. In my opinion, until apps start identifying themselves to you when and where you need them – finding anything will be like finding a needle in a haystack. Apps would completely crush everything under the weight of “too many apps.”

Making the case for the mobile web

On the flipside, if you believe the next 2 Billion people will join the Internet on a mobile phone – you have to think they will do so via a browser over apps. Creating mobile apps is a bit more difficult than creating webpages. Browsers keep improving and it is easy to set up a website no matter the level of technical prowess. No matter what way you cut it – I don’t think browsers and the mobile web are going away anytime soon.

Do you remember AOL or CompuServe? Those were apps that ran on your desktop computer. Eventually, as web technologies caught up and brought with them richer experiences, browsers replaced these applications. Will the same thing happen again – browsers – to apps – back to browsers?

Maybe these arguments are missing the point

It’s possible that the statistics highlighted in the Flurry Analytics report are an indicator that something is changing. However, instead of becoming a mobile-apps-centric world, are services the dominate way that we engage?

In both our mobile applications and our browser experiences, services are the building blocks of everything. PwC’s view is that the smartphone is really a digital extension (or Avatar) of the user and apps are nothing more than small collections of services with an interface.

If you look at it this way, then app discovery becomes services discovery. If you add a personalization and a context intelligent engine – then you can provide the appropriate services at the appropriate time based on historical and context sensitive variables – better known as self-assembling context aware services – all wrapped up on your device. Your individual services, based on your individual needs, will create your unique individual app or browser experience on the fly.

Is it possible what we’re really seeing is the emergence of a service centric world? The smartphone is simply the app delivery mechanism, and today’s current apps and mobile browsers are nothing more than encapsulated services. In other words, the smartphone is the app and all the icons on the phone represent services – basically a simplistic menu’ing system. The interface will change (a lot) over time – but the services do not. Perhaps, this is the argument mobile software developers should be discussing.

 

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Chris Curran

Principal and Chief Technologist, PwC US Tel: +1 (214) 754 5055 Email

Vicki Huff Eckert

Global New Business & Innovation Leader Tel: +1 (650) 387 4956 Email

Mark McCaffery

US Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Leader Tel: +1 (408) 817 4199 Email