ADOTAS – We like to think of ourselves as a progressive species, and in our defense, at times we certainly can be. What we don’t like to admit, however, is that while we are always moving forward, we sometimes struggle to break away from the training wheels of outdated technology. There is a reason that things like personal checks and Hotmail accounts and Blockbuster Video still exist: People like to cling to the things they know. Perhaps nowhere is this better exemplified in today’s tech landscape than in the debate between native apps and mobile websites.
Anyone who has dipped a toe into the waters of mobile technology should by now realize that mobile is already in the midst of one of the fastest-moving technological revolutions we have ever seen. Despite the incredible things that are now possible on the mobile web, many businesses and agencies are still dead-set on sticking to a technology of five years ago — the app. While the app market may be enormous, and users may feel safe in its arms, the opportunities the mobile web presents should be more than enough to convince the world to end its app love affair.
The appeal of apps has long been convenience. Apps are easy to navigate and conveniently accessible. What many people don’t realize, however, is that mobile web designers are now optimizing mobile sites to mirror the same smooth navigation and action-driven content that apps bring. The difference, of course, is that mobile sites do not need to be downloaded or constantly updated by the user. Providers can simply update content to their mobile sites, and users will have instant access without having to jump through any hoops or be asked to go through an annoying payment process.
Beyond the convenience of accessing mobile websites is the obvious benefit of not having to store anything on your smart device. Apps clog up memory and data on users’ devices, while mobile sites can simply be accessed through a browser and hosted on the cloud. This also means users can access mobile sites from any device, versus having to download an app to each device they own, and with many users accessing the web from multiple devices, this makes a huge impact.
Apps may have huge appeal to users, but ask any developer, and he will convey the very opposite emotion. Not only are apps extremely complicated and frustrating to develop, they are also very costly and are usually device-specific. This means having to go through the entire development process for each platform that will run the app. Mobile web building technology makes building mobile-optimized sites extremely convenient and possible without devoting huge amounts of time and money. After the design and development is complete, mobile sites can also be launched instantly and integrated with desktop sites, versus apps that need to be put through a long approval process with the market provider (i.e, Apple or Android).
The one major appeal of apps that may still have an edge over mobile optimized sites is the ability to push messaging. This gives advertisers and app providers the ability to directly send messages and ads to a user’s device via alerts. While mobile websites can utilize things like location-based technology and near-field communications just as apps can, they do not yet have the capabilities to link these to messaging. What mobile sites can do, however, is take advantage of opt-in communications like SMS and email messaging. This means that users can choose their level of communication versus getting bombarded with annoying alerts that tend to only be off-putting.
So, the question remains: Are apps on their way out the door? Well, while I wish the answer were yes, the far more likely answer is, not quite yet. The app market simply makes too much money for companies like Apple and Google, and now Facebook has thrown its hat in the ring as well. In the coming years, however, don’t be surprised to see a major shift in the makeup of the common app, with many developers leaning on mobile web technology, much the way LinkedIn has done with its new iPad app. As more and more apps begin to utilize the mobile web, I can see us getting to a point where web app and mobile site are one and the same, and with any luck, soon thereafter the native app will finally be put to rest.