Mobile App or Browser-Based Site? Report Says The Browser Will Win on Mobile

Mobile search company Taptu has released a detailed report showing that the future of the Mobile Web is likely to be dominated by cross-platform browser-based mobile web sites – rather than apps built specifically for iPhone, Android, or any other platform. Taptu calls the former “the Mobile Touch Web,” which it defines as “Web sites created for mobile touchscreen devices,
with finger-friendly layouts and lightweight pages that are fast to load over
cellular networks.”

Taptu estimates that there are 326,000 Mobile Touch Web sites worldwide, which they say compares to 148,000 iPhone apps in the App Store and 24,000 apps in the Android market. Taptu expects the browser-based mobile web market to grow much faster than the app market.

What kinds of sites are more likely to be browser-based for mobile phones? According to the report, 19% of the mobile sites measured were Shopping & Services sites; compared to 3.6% in the same category
in the App Store. Content in the ‘Social’ category also has a higher chance of being a browser-based mobile site, rather than an app (12.9% to 1.7%).

Conversely, just 0.8% of mobile sites were gaming, compared to 18% of apps in the App Store. There is a similar discrepency in the ‘Entertainment’ category.

It seems then that commerce services are taking more advantage of mobile web browsers than gaming and entertainment providers. But why? Taptu says it’s because “many [Commerce] products and services do not really fit into Apple’s iTunes content-oriented billing system.” Meanwhile, gaming and entertainment content is better delivered as an app, says Taptu, “since apps deliver a much richer, more interactive gaming experience than the casual games available on the Mobile Web.”

Taptu says that the increasing sophistication of mobile browsers is one reason why browser-based mobile sites will flourish. In particular, it points to increasing support for HTML 5. See our analysis of Web vs. Native Mobile Apps if you’d like to know more about this.

According to Taptu, “it’s getting easier and easier to create rich touch screen user experiences with the browser without having to create platform-specific apps.” Taptu also points to increasing usage of open standard APIs, enabling Mobile Web developers to access “deeper device functions such as geolocation.”

Taptu does concede that gaming content will probably continue to be delivered predominantly as download apps on iPhone and similar devices. However it claims that for “many other types of app, the economics of software development and publishing favours the Web development route.”

Taptu predicts that “the Mobile Touch Web will grow vigorously over the next five years, and will approach the quality of user
experience of Mobile Touch Apps across all the app categories except for
games.”

We should note that Taptu is mostly a browser-based service, although it does offer apps for iPhone and other platforms too. But it obviously has a big stake in the success of the “touchscreen mobile web.”

What do you think, do you agree that the future of Mobile Web development will lie in browser-based mobile sites? Or do you think the pull of advanced functionality as an app (on platforms such as iPhone and Android) will draw most types of content and services over time?

Update: The report is now available for download (PDF – 5MB) and a presentation is embedded below.

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