After a decade of ruling the roost, Web Applications have given way to mobile Apps, much like Client Server development gave way a decade earlier. But the similarity stops there.
Everybody wants a mobile app. Construction companies want to have a mobile app to showcase their projects. Trading organizations want to be the first to provide a high traction App Platform. What more, everybody wants apps on multiple mobile platforms!
The result – a high demand for developing mobile apps, app developer salaries have sky-rocketed, and sub-par quality app developers have become highly sought after. Think of the Y2K problem, and employment of the huge number of sub-par COBOL developers, who now occupy middle-management in most MNCs (sorry IBM, cant avoid taking a dig at you on this topic 😉 This makes app development expensive and sometimes, the app strategy (if you have one) dont really take off the way you expect it to.
Now, heres good new for you, organizations – Mobile Apps will never completely replace Web Applications. Heres why:
1. Its just one more channel. It would be insane to make it the ONLY channel. Ask your marketing head the craziness of pursuing a single channel. Let his tears make it clear for you.
2. Apps are non-searchable for the time being. Currently all app-only companies have to try double hard to get a good SEO ranking and for online-ad placements. The app themselves, do not lend themselves to searchability – like a website would do. I dont see this changing anytime soon (Now thats a good niche for all tech enterpreneurs to develop the next google)
3. App updates are currently retarded. An app user has to upgrade any app to get its latest features, and the updates are not seamless. They download bulky apps, and sometimes get in your way of using the app – Update to the latest version or else… Now, from a product perspective, this means that the development team keep down the number of releases/updates, and do one release per month, instead of one release every day. Hello – whats up, Agile?
4. The App markets are controlled, and will never allow real independence to compete, as long as the likes of Apple control the App Marketplaces. A Web Application is almost a free enviroment (except for domain name registration – which is a necessary evil) – You could implement whatever functionality on your website, without anyone breathing down your neck. But, the App Store for example, requires you to get approval from Apple for all apps. Am a firm beleiver of hybrid apps, or more specifically, a responsive website, that could be wrapped in an app. But the policies of some marketplace owners prohibit this. A smart startup, I would think needs to conserve its development cost, instead of developing a website, an android app and an iPhone app – and after all this, sit and pray that Apple would approve the app. I know many a startup owner getting delayed, and losing precious time to market, just to work and re-work to the whims and fancies of Apple.
5. Limited by the hardware installed. The current mobile hardwares, do not allow for infinite no of apps, and users will be wary of installing every new app – for a long time to come. Yes, there will be a day when mobile hardware will really scale to allow any number of mobile apps. Think of it like your laptop today… you could essentially install infinite number of apps on your laptop, but do you do that? I, for one, am an avid user of uninstall programs. The same thing will happen to mobile apps, even if mobile hardware capabilities improve. Users will be choosy about what app to install – simply to keep their life simple. Mom-Pop shop developing an app – you can forget hitting big install numbers – dont waste your money on developing that app.
6. Any good enterprise/consumer app requires a backend. This in turn is a web API. The app alone can perform limited operations in isolation. It requires server interaction and peer-peer data to make it smarter and intelligent.
Don’t Believe me? Take the case of Flipkart and Myntra that went App-Only a year ago. It is believed that this strategy completely backfired, and helped Amazon increase its customer base, due to a better search visibility. Both companies haver reverted to a lite-app – which is a simpler HTML based app.
Where to go from here?
The best bet for startups is to develop a very responsive website, and wait until it gets a good traction, before deciding if expensive app development will really make a difference for them.
1. The capabilities of a Web App have also been consistently improving. You could now summon your camera, GPS positioning and a host of other hardware features from within your browser.
2. You could wrap the responsive web app using a web-view, and release them on the play store. This is necessary, if you plan to send push notifications to entice your users to come back and use your app again and again. You could also try releasing them on the App Store – good luck with that (psst… Apple doesnt understand why you find it difficult to develop that glossy mobile app)
3. Use CSS to customize the UI between mobile and Desktop form factors.
It is true that mobile apps do not look and feel the same as a native app. But it is only a matter of time when web technology will be as versatile as a mobile app. The direction in which HTML specs are going – to provide for local storage, frameworks like AngularJS which are very similar in architecture to a native app – make me beleive that we will have really smooth looking and functioning Web Apps that can completely replace mobile apps.
So, if you are a startup, whose customer base has a mobile – make a smart decision and save yourself money and more importantly, invest in future proof tools. Resist the Mobile App Fraud, er Fad – live long!