Mobile websites will replace mobile apps

14th February 2012
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Services mobile dev

Mobile websites will replace mobile apps, according to Jakob Nielsen’s blog post today, but it’s not clear exactly when this will happen.

Summary:
Mobile apps currently have better usability than mobile sites, but forthcoming changes will eventually make a mobile site the superior strategy.

I agree with Jakob Nielsen that this shift will happen gradually. I blogged about whether to build a mobile app or web app and about the difference between mobile and web applications, but this shift that’s occurring is happening slowly because there are so many formats out there, iphone, Android, kindle fire, etc. iPhone’s app store is convenient, but expensive and choosy; if they don’t like your app for whatever reason it will not get published.

While cost is a big factor, Nielsen also says that usability is increasingly important. Why design for all these different platforms and experiences, when you can build a responsive web application that handles them all? The other advancement to consider is increasing internet speeds. I think without fast internet web applications wouldn’t even be on the table. Web applications free you from specific platforms, and you’re only limited by browser capability and connectivity.

PhoneGap is a great interim solution, but I’ve yet to see an excellent app design come from it. The proliferation of platforms makes a designer’s job difficult at best, but knowing your market can make the decision easier. Focus more on usability and you will create a better application that more people will use.

The ultimate situation occurs if you can combine html/css with javascript you can produce web apps that go to PhoneGap and then you’ve 80% of your bases covered. This seems like the way to go for now. Monetisation of these web apps already exists (plenty of examples out there like Xero, HarvestApp, GoSquared, Basecamp and more) we just need usability and responsive design to follow suit so web apps work on any device, and then we won’t need mobile applications.

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Nathaniel Flick

I'm a Front End Web Developer passionate about usability. My primary specialties are HTML5, CSS3, SCSS, LESS, and jQuery and I am very familiar with Foundation and Bootstrap frameworks. I've worked on top of and with WordPress, Shopify, Rails, Python, and ASP.net/Umbraco frameworks.