Blog Post

Is the Mobile Pendulum Swinging From Apps to the Web?

The number of mobile-friendly websites is increasing faster than expected, according to the latest data from Taptu, a touch-focused mobile search company. Not only is the touch web growing, it’s growing at a faster rate than Apple’s iTunes App Store (s aapl), which currently has an annualized revenue rate of nearly a billion dollars.

Taptu forecast in December of last year that more than 500,000 touch-friendly websites would exist by the end of 2010. According to its latest count, there are 440,100 such sites — an annualized growth rate of 232 percent. In contrast, Apple’s iTunes App Store holds roughly 185,000 software titles, which translates into a 144 percent annual growth rate. Taptu now expects the number of touch-friendly websites to hit 1.1 million by year’s end.

Driving this trend is an increased availability of non-Apple touchscreen devices, a lack of a centralized application store for developers to contend with and the notion of the web as lowest common denominator. Indeed, the touchscreen is becoming a staple of the smartphone — a segment that’s expected to overtake feature phones before 2012 — which means companies and services that want to reach out to customers on the web need a finger-friendly interface. For while trackpads, optical sensors and trackballs on a phone can help, they typically offer a poor browsing experience by bouncing the user from link to link on mobile sites.

While developers have unquestionably flocked to the iPhone platform, creating applications for it requires far more coding knowledge than it takes to build a web site. That’s why Palm (s palm) devised its webOS application strategy around HTML, CSS and JavaScript just as the Symbian Foundation has done with Symbian 3 — the fewer barriers to development, the more fish in the development pool. More important than the ease of coding, however, is the universality of the mobile web. Developing an application for a specific platform like the iPhone only yields a return on that platform. Devoting resources to a web site delivers a product that’s available on most mobile devices.

It’s too early to see if this growth of touch-friendly websites will upset the Apple cart, as it were, but there’s potential for developers to refocus efforts on the web and away from platform-specific applications. Could we be returning to where it all started for the original iPhone — web-based applications on the handset?

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Image courtesy Flickr user calebunseth.

15 Responses to “Is the Mobile Pendulum Swinging From Apps to the Web?”

  1. Krishnan

    The biggest problem with native apps is the download and upgrades. Apps also clutter up the home screens and add to the cognitive overload.

    What is needed are good shortcut mechanisms for web apps.

  2. I think there’s room for both distribution models. There are times when using an app is the best solution (most notably when you’re offline) and others when the web offers a superior experience.

    I think both are here to stay.

  3. My Locator ®

    great article. The line is blurring which is great for developers and domainers. As time goes on you wont be able to tell the difference. I find the ability to manipulate the phone much better on the internet than an app. Apps are often restrictive and not full featured. The app store is not your platform and subject to restrictions. Your domain name on the internet will always be “your place” on the net and mobile.

  4. For some things – simple live stock lookup or whatever – that’s true, but in other cases having an app that’s available (with local storage) whatever the state of your connection is vital… be it email or frogger sometimes a mobile web experience won’t cut it.

    That said, the direction WebOS was going (and Titanium from AppCellerator) is great… use the skills you have creating a web UI to produce a local app really does open up some possibilities.

    Maybe HTML5 will get there – it’s in Googles interest to drive that part of the agenda vs Apple who’ll want to drive control to an app store. But for Google the benefit of that is that it’s hard to lock down and monetize any way apart from advertising…

    • Lucian Armasu

      Too bad Google is also pushing native apps with Android instead of pushing harder for web apps. It would’ve been much higher compatibility if Google had the webOS.

  5. kevin

    Apple has already announced that there are more than 200K apps in its App Store – see its press release on 5/3 for iPad. That won’t get it to a 232% growth rate but its not as far off as you show.

    In any case, in most cases where there is an App, I find the task to be accomplished is still significantly easier via the App than via the “mobile-friendly” website.

    • Thanks for the clarification on the number of titles in the App Store. The Taptu report compares both mobile sites and apps in the first quarter only, so the May 3 numbers wouldn’t be used.

      Regardless, I too, find myself using apps in lieu of web sites when possible. But perhaps there’s a change in the winds? I’m curious to see how this same comparison plays out six months from now and if I revert back to the mobile web over apps.

      • As we get better support for WebKit and HTML5, apps will be overtaken. But, I am curious if the sites you refer to are simply not optimized for a mobile experience. If I use Facebook the most important aspect is the internet connection not the underlying application framework. In my mind a widget-like mentality is necessary to optimize the interaction for mobility.