Monday 20 June 2011

MomoLondon: Web vs Apps

I couldn’t make tonight’s Mobile Monday on location, so I thought I’d post my delayed notes from last time’s debate on Web vs Apps.

It was a lively session with both sides arguing strongly, though (unfortunately?) sometimes for the other side! The team members started by taking turns in giving short presentations — notably all of team web had slides (including beautiful ones from Bryan as usual) whereas all of team apps had decided just to talk.

Team web ended up with the audience vote (just!), but personally I thought team apps had the better argument. Yes, there are billions more mobile devices out there that can access web sites rather than have apps, but as we’ve seen (and as even Tomi Ahonen has been repeatedly caught out by) slick user experience drives mobile devices more than anything else. Web sites are great for finding stuff — but people don’t keep coming back to the same web site like they do to a favourite, well-designed app. And the skew in stats that we’ve seen since the iPhone came out (iPhones and similar devices punch way above their weight in usage compared to number of devices) applies even more for apps vs web sites. In his 5 minute presentation, Mauricio put up some Flirtomatic stats saying that they made about three times as much revenue from mobile web as from apps, but then revealed that their iPhone app provided 11% of revenue from 0.8% of sessions!

Anyway, enough ranting… Here’s my usual semi-structured notes:


Chaired by Leila Makki

Team Apps

Team Web

5 min presentations

Each team member made their own presentation, but my notes have all the points mixed together. Viji Pathy has posted a pretty comprehensive report of the session on the Mobile Monday blog that gives a bit more detail on the presentations side.

  • Discoverability
    • App store pre-installed
    • Browse, search, one-click install
    • Web is about information — apps are about utility
  • Building a mobile web app is not just about knowing HTML and CSS with a bit of Javascript
    • Easy to get very bad results on mobile
  • Numbers: 77% of 6.8 billion people have access to a mobile device (5.3 billion)
    • only 100 million iPhones (only 2.015%)
    • for 1/3 of population internet access is only via mobile
    • the other devices are mostly “feature phones”
    • but this is not an argument for web vs native… since many of the feature phones either have limited mobile web, or else support native apps!
  • Linkability — if you don’t have the app installed, sending someone direct content doesn’t work so well
    • this is Tim Berners-Lee’s fear, but apps can integrate with a web-based backend (e.g. instagram) and app stores themselves can be web-enabled
  • Non-technical people actually don’t understand what a website is…
    • Big successful web sites are understandable on a human level: eBay/Amazon are shops; Facebook is the pub
    • Similarly, apps are a more human thing — you get a nice shiny icon
    • The blank browser scares many people
  • AW: When you get the iPad, it’s totally useless until you put apps on it
  • From content perspective: Google prioritises quantity of content, whereas apps can highlight small limited quality
    • For example, instagram has many less features than flickr but has grown to 5 million users very rapidly
  • Flirtomatic — iPhone native has 11% revenue from 0.8% sessions…
    • and Mauricio is on Team Web…?
  • At Tesco, have seen that mobile web used for research but not for re-use and habitual long-term usage
    • app use encouraged by push notifications and widgets
  • 1 in 4 mobile searches in the US are on Google Voice search
  • Mobile web seems to be doing well for mail order & delivery shopping sites — searchable content with larger payments
  • Tesco made money back from iPhone app in less than a week
  • Targeting mobile devices: build it and see who comes, then target appropriately

Summing up — pro apps

  • Tangibility
  • Ownership & engagement
  • Native apps are faster
  • Using hardware
  • Lots of web browsers available, but are they ever going to be your customers?

Summing up — pro web

  • Don’t just target the rich west — reach beyond
  • Discoverability for apps can be one of the biggest problems

Q & A

  • What about using web apps on a long flight?
    • Not really
    • but this is possible now
  • Hard stuff: two-way voice with echo cancellation etc?
    • Not in a web app
  • Fragmentation of web browsers?
    • Design your site appropriately: it depends on who you want to target, but it’s still a larger number than just iPhone apps
    • e.g. target a touch-enabled mobile site and get both iPhone and Android at once
  • Mobile social
    • Good example of having both a mobile web and native strategy
    • e.g. Facebook native users add photos more; web users add quick status updates
  • Mobile ads — is there a problem keeping competition away from apps?
    • Tesco doesn’t have external ads in their apps
    • The end-user wants the curated experience…
  • Testing across multiple devices?
    • AW: It’s a problem for mobile computers — they don’t work some of the time…
    • AW: Apps are a reliable experience
    • The mobile web is no better and sometimes harder
  • Apps are good for some things and webapps are good for others… It’s like asking a carpenter which is the better tool: a hammer or a saw?
  • Monetisation?
    • Not for web games… yet
    • Flirtomatic has in-app purchases of virtual currency, but it’s a whole range of transaction
  • How do costs compare for native vs web?
    • It depends… You can spend more or less on each
    • Tesco: cost seems quite similar — especially since mobile dev has to be optimised for various devices
  • App-store owners take a cut; will it be the same for web?
    • probably — billing partners will always take a cut…
  • Will it be a digital divide between those who have apps and those that don’t?
    • Some people just don’t want apps on their phone — e.g. mother has a binatone phone with big buttons and doesn’t even use a mouse
    • There’s just a time lag to the rest of the world
  • What about lock-ins?
    • By choosing HTML, your development environment is free from manufacturer tie-ins
    • However, by choosing HTML, you play into the hands of Google making things free, operator content filtering etc.
  • Mobile web currently over-promises and under-delivers, but we’re all hedging our bets as mobile web catches up…?
    • Panel: yes!
    • BR: mobile web is catching up very fast, and depending on your business may already be a better bet
  • How do you find where your customers are?
    • Analyse the web browsers of your mailshot emails


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