Blog Post

Does the future of mobile content belong to apps or the web?

The rise of the mobile web offers publishers a way to reach many screens at once — without having to tailor content to an-ever growing number of custom platforms. Does this mean publishers can finally turn away from apps, which were once a source of so much promise but are now regarded by some as an expensive distraction?paidContent Live: Where content means business. April 17, 2013, New York City. Register now.

For skeptics, apps amount to a temporary — and increasingly unnecessary — technology. But this is hardly the only view. Many in the publishing
community still thinks apps will deliver on their initial potential to provide deep reader engagement and handsome ad revenues. Now, with the arrival of more tablets and smartphones than ever, the debate over apps becomes more acute: should publishers turn away and rely solely on HTML5 or instead double down on these new app opportunities?

These are some of the questions we’ll explore during “Are Apps or the Web the Future of Mobile Content?” one of many discussions that will take place during paidContent Live on April 17 in New York City. Our guests include Jason Pontin of MIT Technology Review, whose widely read 2012 essay made him a leading voice in the counter-revolution against app idealism. He will be joined by ESPN’s Ryan Spoon and Nick Alt of Vimeo – two mobile experts who offer other alternative app narratives.

Here are more of the topics we’lll be exploring during the panel (feel free to propose more in the comments below):

  • Is the payoff worth the cost?: Apps are nice in theory but they cost a pretty penny to build and maintain – especially as the number of platforms grows. Is the return worth it? Or should publishers plow that money into other parts of their editorial operation?
  • Platform proliferation: The initial promise of apps appeared brightest on Apple’s iPad. But now dozens of tablets, from the Galaxy to the Kindle Fire, are emerging – and consumers are finally picking them up. Do all these new screens present a new opportunity? Or another reason to escape apps once and for all?
  • Nice app, where do I find it? Those who want to wash their hands of apps are faced with a powerful counter-argument: You need to be where your readers are. As the mobile market grows, are the app skeptics confident their readers will find them on the mobile web?
  • Does sub-compact change the app game? The arrival of so-called sub-compact publishing offers a way to create light-weight and relatively inexpensive apps. Examples like Marco Arment’s The Magazine and The Awl also show how these new species of apps can deliver both a beautiful reading experience and an ongoing stream of subscription revenue. Do these offer an opportunity that the mobile web cannot?

6 Responses to “Does the future of mobile content belong to apps or the web?”

  1. Lisa Cooper

    Too many developers build their mobile application based on their traditional web site design. They inadvertently recreate a web app on a mobile device, a device that is not suited to the same standards. All media have done this throughout history. Early newspapers looked like books. Early TV looked like glorified radio. Early internet looked like online versions of paper brochures. Mobile content is not web at all. It is an entirely new medium.
    Lisa from

  2. It depends on the type of content and what info you want from the user. If you want any personal information, access to the users phonebook, GPS location etc, you will use an app as those information is available through the api. If it is just content you are sharing with the user and the user must provide all that detail manually, then you would use a web app.

    Personally I think soon we will see a lot of apps combining the two, a mobile app that serves as a framework to pull the content from the web app. I think this will be the best of both worlds.

  3. Probably the web. Because that is what it was designed to do. Sadly probably apps too. If we can somehow dump JavaScript as the language of the web, it won’t be “sadly”.

    • Why dump Javascript? HTML, Javascript, and CSS are pretty powerful. Did you see my real online mall? HTML5 is pretty advanced now. You can do quite a lot with interactivity. I don’t see Javascript going anywhere for a while, especially since it’s being so well optimized for mobile processors. We’re going to be getting a lot more interactive user interfaces in the near future here, and those will be driven by HTML5.

  4. It’s an interesting debate.
    I have a personal project called ‘Drag The Bag’ that is the worlds first real online mall.
    As an HTML5 web app it is hardware independent (mostly) so any device can pull up their browser and access my websites ‘web app’ and they can enjoy the experience on their browser of choice.
    When I do user testing I watch most non-tech savvy users and see all kinds of problems arise. A certain portion of users open up their browser and simply type in the search bar instead of simply typing the link and instead get search results when trying to find my site. Another portion doesn’t even know what their browser is on their device and they simply pull up the app store or google play store and type what they are looking for- instead they are greeted by all the apps in their respective marketplaces (which we haven’t submitted to stores yet due to development costs).
    Once they have an app they have much easier access to it (by simply clicking the icon) rather than opening their browser and viewing their bookmark or retyping the URL.

    A proposed solution would be if it was easier to add these ‘web apps’ to the homescreen rather than the ways it is currently done on Anroid and iOS. Believe me, a major portion of users doesn’t know they can add a website to their homescreen for easy access. By having a saved icon you circumvent the more tech approach to opening a browser and typing a url. However, if a solution like this isn’t implemented I wouldn’t be surprised if apps continue on their path. It’s like going back to the days of AOL and typing a ‘keyword’ instead of a website. I open their appstore and type a keyword, download, and then unless I delete them their icon is always there & always reminding me which gives it a major advantage over browser usage.