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Where is an app apt?

Where is an app apt?

The growth in mobile usage is undeniable. A study conducted by the Nielsen Company estimates that more than half the population will own a smartphone by June 2011. It is forecast that in 2013, globally more people will access the internet via mobile than via their PC. So what does this growth mean for publishers and advertisers?

There is significant debate in the mobile community at the moment about the relative benefits of browse (or mobile internet) as opposed to applications. The fire has been further fuelled by the potential offered by the latest browse technology, HTML5. While still in its infancy, HTML5 looks set to change the current mobile landscape.

So when it comes to developing mobile products, which is better? Browse or application? It is fair to say both have their benefits and drawbacks. The major advantage of browse is any phone that is internet-enabled can access it. This gives browse a scale advantage over apps, which can only be accessed from high-end smartphones, which is 36 percent of people in Australia at this point.*

An additional efficiency presented by browse is the high fragmentation of smartphone operating systems. The proliferation of smartphone operating systems means publishers must consider iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and Symbian, among others, when determining which operating system to develop their application for. In addition, the programming skills required to develop apps for each operating system are different, meaning it's difficult to build an app once and deploy it seamlessly across all major operating systems. Browse, on the other hand, works independently of the operating system utilising browser technology, which means any web developer should be able to develop a browse site for mobile. So, if scale is required, browse offers all the advantages.

So why build an app? The underlying software of applications provides them with access to the core functionality of the mobile device, such as GPS, camera, microphone and address book. This allows apps to be developed with very high levels of functionality and utility.

As a rule, browse (even HTML5) only provides limited access to some of these features, so it is difficult to replicate the functionality and utility of an app using browse. And utility is a key requirement of mobile-related products and services.

Furthermore, because apps are downloaded as a self-contained software package onto the device the user experience is generally much more integrated, responsive and slick than that of a browse site. So, if utility and optimal user experience are required, applications are usually the best option.

So with all this in mind, what does the future hold for mobile? Well, the emerging technology of HTML5 holds the promise of more "app-like" browse sites, with improved integration with the core hardware of the device and an enhanced user experience.

But HTML5 is immature and a final standard is not expected until mid-2014 at the earliest. If it delivers on its promise it will offer more of the benefits of apps with the scale and efficiency of browse. This is ideal from a publisher perspective as it optimises utility and user experience without the prohibitive costs of developing apps across multiple operating systems. While HTML5 is still developing, Apple recently announced that 10 billion apps have been downloaded from its App Store since it was launched in 2008. Consumers are engaging with apps today and there is no sign of the momentum slowing.

Like the experience on the PC, we think browse will provide the mass market experience of the internet on mobile with apps filling a valuable niche at the high-end where integration with the device's hardware is necessary.

The solution? Publishers need to have a foot in both camps, but be smart about their investments. Browse should be offered for the scale, efficiency and accessibility it affords to all mobile users. While apps should be built for the utility, user experience and engagement they drive on high-end smartphones.

When it comes to mobile technology, we are very much still in the first kilometre of a marathon. In this race, apps have taken the early lead, but browse is slowly catching up and may yet win — unless a new technology emerges to pip them both at the post.

*Nielsen- Telstra Smartphone Index 2010.

User comments
its about time ninemsm built a android app. for their home page at least. when will it happen???

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