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The Report of the Mobile Web's Death Was an Exaggeration

By Josh Galde | June 9, 2014

CATEGORIES: Mobile Quality

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As in the famous (mis-)quote of Mark Twain, recent news of the mobile Web’s death has been greatly exaggerated. [Twain actually wrote, “The report of my death was an exaggeration,” to quell a rumor about his death that had mistakenly arisen from a report that his cousin was gravely ill].

The research report issued by the mobile analytics firm Flurry on April 1, 2014 (and no, it wasn’t an April Fools joke) seemed to indicate at first glance that native apps have all but snuffed out the life of the mobile web, with the average US mobile user spending 2 hrs and 19 minutes per day, or 86% of their mobile screen time on a mobile app versus mobile websites. But, the authors of the report and those who breathlessly reported on the findings failed to stop and consider some important mitigating evidence, and also neglected to consider whether “going native” is the right mobile strategy for everyone.

While it is true that rise of Facebook’s popularity in the mobile environment has been nothing short of remarkable (the Flurry analysis found that a full 17% of mobile users’ time was spent on the popular social network), the truth is that Facebook is still, on a certain level, a hybrid app -- with some of its core features and its ability to rapidly update content made possible through the use of HTML5 as a fallback.

“…As Facebook’s engineers and others have pointed out, the current so-called

“native” Facebook app still makes use of web views as a fallback for new and rapidly changing content.” [Mobile Backend as a Service Blog, 01/08/14]

The other huge slice of the mobile usage pie that Flurry points to as evidence of foregone native app dominance is mobile games, with 32% of mobile users’ time being spent playing native app-based games, followed by the YouTube and Twitter apps, which account for 4% and 1.5%, respectively. All of these numbers do make for an interesting and compelling story in their own right. Clearly, native apps are preferred by social media, entertainment and game developers because they generally run faster and offer more device-specific feature sets. And while we don’t doubt the report’s veracity, we question how relevant it is to Internet retailers or other large enterprises whose purposes may be better served by building a vibrant and adaptable mobile website, or opting for the hybrid approach.

By focusing their mobile development resources (often a limited commodity) on developing and maintaining a high quality mobile website or hybrid app, those companies may be more effectively utilizing those resources to reach the greatest number of potential customers.

So before we take the reports of the death of the mobile web too seriously, it would probably behoove us all to take a step back, have another look at the evidence and not jump to the conclusion that native app is the only way to go. And regardless of the underlying architecture – whether its web, hybrid or native – the most important thing to remember once you commit to going mobile, is that it’s all about the quality of the experience. Users don’t care what you call it, just so long as it works, so pre-launch testing and post launch monitoring remain the rule of thumb.

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