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Who Wins the Battle between Mobile Apps and the Mobile Web?

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Jiri Marousek

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After a run on mobile apps since the launch of the iPhone, iPad and Android, everyone seemingly needed an app. Everything from Angry Birds to simple re-use of printed brochures for car companies just had to be added to the App Stores to be on the cutting edge. But a crossroads emerges for brands and content developers with mobile web now allowing all the functions that an app would, without taking consumers backwards 15 years and requiring them to install software on their devices just to see your content.

95 % of apps are functionally dead after 3 weeks
While the decision in not solely on the shoulders of the projected lifespan of the app, consider this: Only less than 5% of apps installed are ever used again after 3 weeks. This means that if your brilliant, cool, groundbreaking app will cost you $100,000+ to develop for the major platforms, and then much more to support, is it really worth it? Are you sure you will gain the engagement with the users that puts you in those 5%?

There are of course many variables that need to be considered before a decision is made between mobile web and an app. For function developers and “software” brands, apps are likely to be a good and wise choice, but I will guarantee that for a decidedly dominant portion of brands and content publishers, mobile web is the obvious winner. Here six major benefits and considerations to keep in your head when deciding between developing an app or the mobile web for your brand:

1. The mobile web can do everything an app can do.

It can deliver the same content and there is no need to convince the user to go to the app store, install the app and then keep it. The experience of the app can be pretty much identical, the cost of entry for the consumer is much lover for mobile web though. They just type in the URL and create an icon on their screen for future use with a single touch.

2. The balance between content and function should drive your decision.

If what you are providing the users is relevant and engaging content (hopefully you got to that point before even considering mobile anything….), then you can likely benefit much more significantly from mobile web. If you have actual functions that are unique (i.e. games, user controller animations, animated product configurators etc.), then an app may be the way to go. For now. Most brands and content providers lean quite heavily to the former.

3. How much are you willing to invest in this experiment?

With mobile web, you still have to maintain, update because it is ultimately just a website. But compared to an app that has to be managed as software and upgraded and edited as bugs are found and as operating systems release updates, mobile web is really inexpensive. Especially considering that your same web team can manage mobile web with little training, whereas for an app, you either need a specialized team or use one of the “free” or “make your own” services that I mentioned in previous posts. That said, mobile web is also a quickly developing space and will require attention to take advantage of all the new and great functions available to improve and build user experience and engagement.

4. HTML5 browsers are app killers.

New HTML5 browsers provide functions and capabilities that bring mobile web much closer to apps than you may think. You can now use GPS, video, on-device stored content etc. with this new technology.

5. Develop once and manage once.

While standards and device capabilities are still in rapid change phase, you are able to develop and release a mobile web with all your content and functions that are immediately available to any of the four major smartphone platforms. (Android, Windows Phone, iOS and Blackberry). You build once and manage one tool with only minor concessions likely for specific platforms.

6. No need to depend on the operating system app store.

This is very key. Any updates you make are immediately available and you are not at the mercy of approval processes or waiting for review or third party approval in the operating system app store. You are able to rapid prototype and change the mobile web platform as you need or as your customers provide feedback. Of course, this also means that any advertising you may place, if you are a content provider running advertising, you don’t share nearly as much revenue with others such as the Apple mother-ship.

In the end, this may seem one sided. But the decision is not as simple. For a brand providing content, mobile web is very likely a better option. But for national integrated campaigns where a more complex function set and controls are needed, apps will still have a place. They should just be heavily scrutinized before we head that way with any brand or campaign.

Think of an app as a product. You better be sure there is a market and need before you build it and maintain it. And think of mobile web as a channel of communication to provide your content and message regularly and without complex installations.

No matter your choice, the usual best practice on business objectives applies. Start with a set of leading and lagging objectives for mobile web and how it integrates with your other communications. You can shoot to be the most downloaded app like Bubbleball (created by a 14 year old kid by the way) or you can shoot to be the most-used mobile website or app by YOUR consumer. First may be good for ego, the second is good for your business.

Jiri Marousek

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