What is the future of the mobile Internet? Are native applications going to be the dominant form of digital interaction? Will new and developing browser technologies like HTML5 make the mobile Web preferable to apps? Developers, engineers, product strategists and brands large and small want to know what the future will look like in order to make spending decisions.
Research firm Forrester took a deeper look at the mobile Web versus application debate and came to what some may find to be a startling conclusion: there is no debate at all. The mobile Web is not going to die and app stores are not going anywhere. As mobile usage increases worldwide, both sides of the equation will grow with it and become valuable aspects of product roadmaps.
Forrester finds that both the application ecosystem and mobile Web usage increased with feature and smartphone adoption across the world. A high tide raises all ships, so to speak.
"Sixty percent of US consumers who download apps also access the Internet via their mobile phones at least daily while 63 percent of US iPhone owners access the mobile Internet on a daily basis," Forrester said.
Consumer product strategy consultant at Forrester Thomas Husson advises product strategists that the equation is mostly irrelevant.
"Product strategists often forget to ask themselves the right questions: which product and services, for which audiences, at what cost, and when?" Husson wrote in a blog post.
Different Interface For Different Purposes
The Forrester report says that apps often fulfill a "lean-back" role for consumers while browsers fulfill a "lean-forward" role. It makes sense. When you consume content via a smartphone or a tablet, you are probably in an app that takes advantage of the deeper integrations of the device like accelerometers, ingrained video capabilities, cameras and yes, location-based services. The mobile Web is used more often for research and looking things up on the fly while out and about. Forrester contends that the distinction between the two ecosystems is blurring.
"The debate around web apps, hybrid apps, and optimized mobile website is nothing but industry jargon," the report argues.
A big part of the equation is that smartphones and tablets are not yet ubiquitous in the global economy. Feature phones access the mobile Web and some consumers are content with that. Even more do not, citing cost and lack of need as reasons for not accessing the Internet (through app or the mobile Web) on mobile devices.
So, where do you put your money? It depends on your audience. Looking to rally the Silicon Valley and South By Southwest crowd? Rich media integrated apps are probably the way to go. Wider reach at a lower cost? The mobile Web. The true answer will reside somewhere in between as mobile computing becomes more widespread.
Note on Forrester report: Data was used from the European Technographics Consumer Technology online Survey, Q4 2010, which surveyed 14,363 respondents in the seven markets of France, Germany, Italy, the netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.