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Ditch Mobile Apps, Invest in the Mobile Web


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Ditch Mobile Apps, Invest in the Mobile Web

Post by Telnic on Tue 30 Dec 2014, 1:12 pm

Bunjie04-08-2010 08:28 PM

Ditch Mobile Apps, Invest in the Mobile Web
By Dan Costa: Reposted here due to relevance to .tel

Even as participants at this year's ThinkMobile Conference showed off their latest Apple iPad apps, they expressed a deep exasperation at the effort and cost required to build separate applications for every mobile platform. After all, the iPad is just the latest in a long line of mobile platforms that developers and content providers must support in order to reach new audiences, a range that now includes the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Badu, Symbian, and, if one feels charitable, Palm's webOS. Meanwhile, everyone I spoke to said that the future was really in mobile Websites based on open Internet standards. So what is the hold up?

ThinkMobile is MediaBistro.com's bi-annual mobile conference, which, in the interest of full-disclosure, is a media partner of the PCMag Digital Network. (The program was also curated by PCMag.com contributing editor, Jamie Lendino.) The idea is to bring leaders in the technology and media spaces together to build better mobile products. Right now, that seems to involve trying to build half-dozen apps for marginal platforms and hoping a unified mobile Web eventually takes hold.

A couple of things were notable at ThinkMobile. As much as the media is obsessed with smartphones, nationwide they represent less than 20 percent of mobile users across the country. The vast majority of people still use "dumb" features phones. That said, smartphone users hog a lot more data and drive many more page views than feature phone users. The commonly cited statistic is that application users are 15 times more active than simple mobile Web browsers.

That alone tells the story of why everyone is so focused on building mobile applications. The tunnel vision that comes when you are using a mobile app is fantastic. Unfortunately, with 150,000 apps in the iTunes store, it can be darn difficult to get people to notice your new app. A mobile Web page, however, is universal and always accessible. And with the impending roll out of HTML5, it can be pretty sophisticated. The question is, when can we all stop chasing each new mobile platform and settle on a coming standard?

The panel I moderated at ThinkMobile was about future mobile strategies, so I put the question to my guests, Robert Spier, NPR.org's director of content development and mobile OPS, and the awesomely-named John Waanders, head of mobile at Bloomberg Media. I asked, "In 2012 will you be running from platform to platform developing apps, or will you be updating a single Web-based presence?" Both said that the mobile Web would be the future. "We're pouring a lot of concrete that isn't easily repurposed," said Spier.

And yet, for now, we have to settle for mobile apps. Indeed, we may never get away from apps. As it is, app consumers are much more engaged than Web users. NPR's iPhone and Android users consume up to six times more page views as traditional NPR.org Web viewers.

Still, that tunnel vision comes at a price, and it is often the expense of ubiquity. Most PCMag readers have a smartphone and among a certain set of creative professional, it is all but standard equipment; but as we have established, most people don't have a smartphone. And for the foreseeable future, even the mighty iPhone will be limited to AT&T subscribers. That means the market will remain a mix of iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Windows Mobile, and yes, even WebOS, for years to come, to say nothing of the semi-silent majority of users that don't carry smartphones. For these people, indeed for all of us, a vibrant, open mobile Web is the best option for both sustainable content creation and maximum consumer choice.

That is part of the reason why, just before the iPad release, CNN chose to invest in a mobile Web upgrade, rather than a custom application. Unlike many cash-strapped companies, CNN could afford to build a custom app, but by investing in their mobile Website, it could reach more people than just the rabid few who ran out and bought an iPad last weekend. It could reach the entire mobile audience.

This is undoubtedly the golden age of mobile application development, and to hear to developers talk, each app holds the promise of limitless growth and monetization potential. Maybe so, but don't forget about the largest, most successful programming environment ever created: the Internet. It is too big to own, too unruly to control, and a little slow to evolve. Still, I couldn't find a soul at ThinkMobile that was willing to bet against it.


dottel.net04-09-2010 09:52 AM

nice post - this is something we have a few projects kicking around in.

there are already companies setup to port mobile apps to other o/s and there are also many working on a consolidated platform that will make the porting easier. From our experience in this field it's not trivial as the fundamental issue is to make for example an iphone app cool you probably will use some of its native handlers/actions that aren't available on a symbian o/s for example. Best case would be to centralise biz logic and right custom presentation layers (mvc anyone?? )

one other interesting thing i stumbled on is an iphone web toolkit that attempts to mimic an iphone app look and feel but as a true web app (just google writing an iphone app in html). interesting idea...

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