Web vs. Apps In Context


Context is key!

There is more damning evidence that apps are taking over the world!

Apps are up and to the right, and the Web and TV consumption are flat-ish. As always, I enjoy thinking about the nuance and the context behind what is going on. For example, In the talks that I have given with Ben on “Web vs. Apps” we dig into the “Well, the Web beat the Windows app platform, so surely it will win again in mobile?” claim.

As I look at the chart above I start to wonder what “apps” actually means. Is this mobile and desktop combined?

When I look back at history and the world of desktop apps, there was a strong trend away from desktop onto the Web. Why was that? If I think of the popular experiences that people wanted to get too, they were very data and content driven (Google Search, Yahoo!, Maps, etc). The power of getting this information was so much more important that the presentation through an app. These experiences moved quickly inside the virtual machine that was the Web browser, and they could be delivered across the various client platforms. While they were moving quickly, the desktop application world was stuck in a more stodgy world. Networks started slow and client server was painful.

Take Gmail as an example. At the time, although we had Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, and friends…. it was atypical to think that this type of “app” was well suited on the Web. I remember using Eudora and friends though and they were soooo heavy and slow. The scale of email changed, and the best spam filter won. Add to that the ability to search across the (growing!) archive of your email life, and the fact that you could access all of this from anywhere (in a world of home and work computers) and you had a winner.

Fast forward to today though, and you don’t have the same advantages. Rich clients have caught up, and apps can get almost all of the advantages of running certain code on the server as Web clients (there are exceptions around details of server side rendering and the like). Add to that the fact that the bar has been raised with that users expect from their user experiences, and you see people using the Gmail app vs. the Gmail website on their mobile device. Why wouldn’t you?

The WebView is also a key component in these platforms, and although we would like to see them improved, we know how to integrate them into native apps. I am sure you remember embedding IE in a desktop app :/ (NOTE: If apps deliver a lot of functionality through a WebView above does it just count as an app?).

We are now in a world where we can choose the right technology for the job at hand, and we can mix and match where appropriate. The Web still offers massive advantages depending on your use cases, and all of the context matters.

By mindful of matching your needs vs. the technology.

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