You don’t need to be a web developer, app programmer or digital media scholar such as Henry Jenkins to have considered a future where apps replace websites as our primary tools for accessing the internet. While it is an interesting thought experiment to ponder, how likely is it really?
Did apps usher in Web 3.0?
The omni-directional and highly interactive communications platforms that we group under the label Web 2.0 are collectively considered the most significant development on the internet since its inception. The hallmark of Web 2.0 of course is users going beyond simply pulling media down from the web by also pushing (publishing or uploading) content.
The impact of apps has been just as profound, and some might argue deserving of a ‘version’ increment in the upgrade analogy – Web 2.1 perhaps. Or can we go further and suggest that apps actually represent a fully fledged paradigm shift deserving of the Web 3.0 label?
Labels are trivial of course, but they make us think about the changing habits of internet users and the significance for us digital marketing types.
Augmentation or website killer?
As it stands right now apps and websites live happily alongside each other. Each model serves its purpose despite each being capable of doing the same job as the other to some extent.
I should state that my assessment here is based primarily on apps and websites used for productivity. Usage for entertainment will have many parallels, so I’m sure you will determine the many similarities for yourself.
Is one actually better than the other?
At this point I think it is silly to compare apps against websites and hoping to uncover the superior platform. Still, for the sake of discussion you can analyse their merits and shortfalls.
Apps have two functional requirements that are a major drawback:
- they must be compatible with your device, and;
- they must be downloaded to be of any use.
Websites clearly don’t need this level of compatibility and they download to any device with a browser.
Apps do have particular strengths though. For example, apps that perform tasks that don’t require an internet connection are great to have on your phone or tablet. Also, being local they are often quicker than performing the same task via a browser and using the internet to access the required functionality.
With the website model you have one application, your browser, which can view an infinite number of websites.
There are some obvious benefits to this approach too:
- No need to download an app for every website that you want to access.
- You don’t need to worry about maxing out your mobile device’s storage with all the apps and data.
- When a website makes changes you aren’t required to re-download and update any apps.
- Losing your mobile device doesn’t mean losing your data. Websites live ‘in the cloud’.
- For website owners, you don’t need to produce a different version for each operating system or device (use responsive design).
So far I may sound a little critical of apps, but I’m not a hater. Not at all. Instead I firmly believe that they have boosted our ability to perform many tasks more efficiently.
Apps that boost a website’s functionality
If you are a regular user of apps and websites then you will no doubt have used apps that augment the functionality of a website.
For example, I use the Google Analytics app on my phone to monitor my client accounts when away from my computer. There is no app vs website struggle here – they are complimenting each other. I do the same with a bunch of SaaS tools that I subscribe to. I’m sure you do too.
The important thing to consider when creating an app for your business is to make sure it works. Test, test, test. App users are very comfortable in submitting ratings so things can get ugly very quickly for brands that push out a dysfunctional app.
In fact, rather than rushing out an app without comprehensive testing and great functionality, you are far better off directing users to a mobile friendly version of your website.
So my point is, both websites and apps have their place. At least for now. We certainly shouldn’t start nurturing the type of “us versus them” mentality that resulted in the browser wars of the 90’s.
In the short term at least, there doesn’t appear to be any reason why either the app or website should bring about the demise of the other. It’s about creating and using the right tool for the job at hand.
Digital marketers and business owners need to stay on top of developments in user behaviour and evolving user attitudes towards apps and websites. This is a fast moving industry renowned for dramatic changes in direction. Your ability to navigate it successfully will make or break your marketing strategy.