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Summary:

HTML 5 and the mobile web are supposed to be the great unifier across platforms, but we might not need such a solution. For the first time ever, Flurry Analytics says people are using apps more than they’re using the mobile web on smartphones and tablets.

App Store

Mobile applications are commanding more attention on smartphones than the web, highlighting the need for strong app stores on handset platforms. For the first time since Flurry, a mobile analytics firm, has been reporting engagement time of apps and web on smartphones, software is used on average for 81 minutes per day vs 74 minutes of web use. Just a year ago, mobile web use outnumbered time spent on apps with 64 minutes as compared to 43 minutes. Trends are ever subject to change, but this one indicates that we’ll be waiting longer for HTML 5 web apps to unify the world of mobile devices.

What are our mobile app minutes spent doing? Flurry, which monitors software on  iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and J2ME platforms, says we’re a growing community of gamers, with 47 percent of our app time spent playing. Social networking followed up with 32 percent, while news, entertainment and other activities each accounted for single digits.

The entertainment figure of only 7 percent seems low to me given that mobile video, a time-intensive activity, is popular: Some data suggests that iPad users watch 2.5 times more video than traditional web users, for example. While YouTube has a solid mobile web interface, many platforms kick users into a native YouTube application. Last July, YouTube said it was serving 100 million videos per day through both its mobile software and website.

Regardless of that potential anomaly, the data underscores a few points I’ve made about mobile app ecosystems: If a platform doesn’t have a strong set of third-party apps available, consumer adoption of the platform becomes a greater challenge. To some degree, we’re now seeing that with Google Android Honeycomb tablets as well as RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook. There are other issues facing each of these, but a lack of optimized apps isn’t helping any, especially with the move from web to apps on mobiles.

Flurry’s data also has me pondering the future of web apps; namely, will HTML5 become as strong of an “app” platform as some would hope? As Chetan Sharma noted last year, the beauty of the web as an application distribution point is the reduced fragmentation it brings:

[T]he fragmentation issue in mobile only gets worse with each year with new devices, different implementations and operating systems, the cost of rolling out an app across multiple devices around the world can increase exponentially. As such, the browser provides the prospect of being the great unifier so you can truly design once and run everywhere (where the browser is available). For the simple apps that are less interactive and require less multimedia capability, like the popular social networking and news/weather apps, browser provides the perfect avenue to maximize impact with least amount of development.

Sharma’s thought made perfect sense to me back then, and while I’m still in general agreement with him, I’m beginning to wonder if the situation has changed. Instead of a mobile market with a number of platforms, we’re now witnessing the space become dominated by just two in Android and iOS. The third spot is up for grabs, although Windows Phone 7 has recently gained perceived momentum. BlackBerry / QNX and webOS are in transition, while Symbian is on the way out.

All the smartphone platforms are using WebKit browsers, so there’s still opportunity for web apps to unified across a large number of devices, but with such dominant operating systems in play, there may be less need for the web browser as a “great unifier” in mobile than there was just a year or two ago. And as long as apps keep appearing, the trend indicates consumers will keep buying.

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  1. Mobile web apps are needed because many web designers are not good at their craft. Also, it’s easy to have a visual icon which an app provides instead of having to open the browser and find a bookmark or enter a web page. When designers start to take many different form-factors and bandwidth constraints into consideration there will be less of a need for web apps.

    1. Nicholas Paredes Stuart Wednesday, June 22, 2011

      Mobile web sites need to be designed like apps, but getting business to buy into that is never even a possibility. Apps get people all a twitter and will be quiet long enough for a mobile experience designer to work effectively. The magic keeps people away!

      I have never seen a number that supports a full mobile website as a primary destination. But, you have to recognize that such sites are often found though tasks in progress or location, rather than as explicit finds.

      In terms of mobile web numbers, what is your experience of using YouTube on the iPhone? Half the time it doesn’t work, or work well. That is the primary reason for such low numbers in my personal experience and opinion.

  2. HTML 5 is not yet in high gear. Give it time. I suspect that looking forward both iOS and Android will wrap HTML 5 with native containers better than today. HTML 5 is NOT necessarily a classic browser application. I have read many sites lately talking about the mix of both world. Having a core application written in HTML 5 and wrapped in a native container.
    That said I am a novice there and thus my comment may be a load of you know what. I hope it makes sense.

    1. It makes a lot of sense

    2. it’s happening!

    3. It definitely makes sense. The leaders of the mobile market have been supporting HTML5 development, and it is NO coincidence ( see more in http://www.htmlcut.com/blog/mobile-psd-to-html5-css3-conversion.html ). So HTML5 will win :)

  3. As noted on 9 to 5 mac: “But what if one of those apps is a web browser like Opera?”

  4. I agree with Tal. One of the big advantages of HTML 5 is that it provides a non-proprietary space for mobile apps and the technology has only recently been deployed. The first HTML 5 mobile have just come online.

    How can you compare established ecosystems with one that hasn’t even begun?

    – Greg

  5. Roshan Shrestha Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    I see that many of the apps are just a wrapper against an HTML browser component. Most of them do not store much data locally and require internet connection, so these are basically web apps.

  6. Roshan +1… This is eventually the road all business apps will go to mitigate their risk. Why build something for one smart phone platform when you can build it for all? With GUI frameworks like Sencha Touch or JQuery Mobile, combined with PhoneGap I can produce an app that essentially becomes native on any of the major platforms.

  7. I can’t imagine many people see this as anything other than temporary. You also can’t ignore things like Chrome OS or the fact that Windows 8 is allowing apps to be authored in HTML/Javascript.

  8. Tal, Your is right on… HTML5 and libraries such as jquerymobile and sencha allow for the creation of powerful applications that can run in a browser. By encapsulating the web app in a lightweight container app you can increase security and insure that the user is using a web client that can handle what your are throwing at it. As things move forward and more browsers adopt html5 standards the wrapper app will become less important. Heck, the html 5 standard isn’t even finished yet and we are all in transition. Good observations from all here and interesting stats from the article.

    – Joel

  9. https://bitly.com/mobframe

    A presentation I gave on HTML5-ish mobile frameworks including Sencha, jQuery Mobile, Titanium and Phonegap. Here’s a hint, almost all apps besides games are wrapped web apps. Linkbait it up!

    1. the link to the slides does not work anymore, did they move?

  10. I think you are right.

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