The Future Belongs to Mobile Web, Not Apps

Web mobile | BCBusiness

Developers and startups should refocus their ideas on products for the web rather than filling the shelves of mobile app stores

Until very recently, everyone used the web from the same device—desktop computers. In 2006, two screen sizes accounted for 77 per cent of all web usage. Most people saw the web through roughly the same “view port,” the technical term for a monitor or laptop screen.
Today we live in a multi-screen world. In Mobify’s own evaluation of global web usage, we discovered that no single screen size accounts for more than 20 per cent of web usage. More importantly, 27 per cent of e-commerce traffic occurs on a mobile device like a smartphone or iPad. For some e-commerce sites, particularly daily deal sites like Groupon and Beyond the Rack, visitors coming from mobile devices account for nearly 50 per cent of total visitors.
We use laptops, smartphones, tablets and iPad minis to browse, order and buy online. Plus, web connections have become embedded into almost every new electronic device—TVs, cameras, cars and more. And we don’t use them in isolation. Google says, “90 per cent of people move between devices to accomplish a goal,” like making online purchases.
And yet companies continue to spend a lot of money and effort building apps for specific smartphone and tablet operating systems. These apps are often complicated to build and maintain and only work on a fraction of all the devices a user might use in a day. Additionally, there’s no guarantee that two years from now, the same platforms and operating systems will be popular.
More importantly, most people only use a few apps. As usability expert Jakob Neilsen explains, people install many more apps than they actually use:
A few mobile apps do get frequent use, ranging from Facebook to the Weather Channel. But most businesses can’t realistically aspire to enter this category; mobile apps have different usability criteria than core desktop applications, as well as the mission-critical enterprise software that people use every day on the job.
When a business builds and launches an app, they’re competing with Facebook, Instagram and Angry Birds, both in the app stores and on user devices.
And let’s be honest, most of the revenue from app stores comes from games. That revenue mostly comes from in-game purchases made from free games that users download. Apple encourages in-game virtual good purchases because it collects a 30-per-cent cut of every one of those virtual dollars if you use their payment system.
Instead, companies should look to the web. It remains the consensus platform for how we browse, connect and shop online. The modern foundational features of the web—search, e-mail and social media all just work in the browser, the browser that’s already installed on everybody’s smartphone, tablet, Xbox, television or web-enabled fridge.
It’s not only easier to build for the web, it’s also an open, future-proof platform where, unlike app stores, competition is on a level playing field.
Neilsen also agrees that the future belongs to the web:
New web technologies such as HTML5 will substantially improve mobile site capabilities. We’re already seeing mobile sites from publishers such as the Financial Times and Playboy with UIs that are very similar to applications offered by equivalent newspapers and magazines.
Today, FT and Playboy use sites instead of apps for business reasons, not UI reasons. Publishers are tired of having a huge share of subscription revenues confiscated by app store owners, and Playboy wants to publish more titillating content than Apple’s prudish censors allow.
The challenge for web developers is to build responsive and adaptive mobile websites that will not only delight users, but will also look great on all of those different screens. That’s undeniably a challenge, particularly for sites with sophisticated functionality. But, designers and developers can be certain that they’re able to reach their entire potential customer base. Apps, on the other hand, remain an expensive way to ignore most of your audience.

 Igor Faletski, CEO of Mobify, has long held a vision of “One Web”, where the integrity of the web is maintained across platforms and for all website visitors. Together with Simon Fraser classmate John Boxall, Igor started Mobify in 2007 and led it to market leadership without taking venture capital.