To app or to browse? That's the question - AppStairs

To app or to browse? That’s the question

For the past years, business owners have been wondering if the generalization of apps was a transient trend or would mean the end of mobile web-browsing. The answer was unclear until last year, when mobile app use overtook web browsing, growing from 43 minutes per day in 2010, to 94 minutes per day in 2011. (U.S. Adults. comScore, Alexa, Flurry Analytics). ComScore recently stated that by the end of 2011, nearly half of US mobile subscribers used downloaded applications on their mobile, which has meant an increase of about 8% when compared to previous data earlier the same year.

Today’s most popular smartphone activities (such as checking the news, weather or sport, or finding a location) are accessed by apps. The users are mainly young adults aged 18-29, as 60% of them possessing a smartphone are currently downloading apps. This group is followed by adults aged 30-49 (46%).

Furthermore, according to the PwC study on consumer intelligence, smartphone users will continue to favor apps over browsers. The survey asked a total of 3,283 individuals how they plan to use their devices in the next coupe of years. They discovered that with thousands of apps at their fingertips, they will continue to choose apps over browsers in 2012 and beyond.

It is clear that apps are here to stay. They’ve proved to be a truly handy way of exploiting smartphones’ possibilities. However, what are the implications of this app growth for business owners? Does this mean we should dismiss mobile browsers? And exactly what is it that has made apps so popular?

To start with, we owe to analyze what is it that differentiates an app from a browser. The main feature that distinguishes both is the fact that, in order to be accessed, the app has to be previously downloaded by the user into their phone. This is the ultimate kind of pull interaction between brands and customers, so the effort of downloading an app has to meet the user’s expectations. Mobile websites, on the other hand, can be accessed online at any time and from any device without the need of downloading any prior software. For apps, this is clearly a disadvantage, increased by the growing trend of the multi-platform experience initiated by the release of the iPad in 2010. The variety of devices, from tablets to e-readers, is increasing the difficulty of creating unified apps. In order to reach a wider target, apps need to be modified to meet the requirements of each device and operating system. Moreover, when an app is actualized, the user needs to download the updated version, while through a browser the pertinent changes can be made and accessed by any user instantly.

Nevertheless, a respondent from the PwC study aged 21-29, stated that apps “are quicker and easier to use. The only reason I ever use a browser is to Google stuff.” This insight proves that once the app is installed on the phone it becomes much easier to access than a browser, increasing the possibilities of forcing an engaging experience between the user and the brand due to the fluency of the navigation that tends to be not only quicker, but also more intuitive, as it is exclusively designed for that specific platform. On the other hand, web browsing is still slower, serving many times as an unpleasant experience for the user. This is why most will evidence an inclination for apps. But this doesn’t mean browsers should be discarded at all. At the end of the day, browsers are a perfect way of reaching prospective or indecisive customers. Apps, on the other hand, serve perfectly as an engaging experience that increases loyalty between current customers and the brand, but seems inefficient when reaching potential clients. Unless, of course, the contents are refreshing and extremely valuable. In any case, watch out for the growth of apps, but keep your mobile site. At the end of the day, mobiles don’t differ that much from the desktop experience; if you’re not on Google, you don’t exist.

- App use overtook web browsing in 2011 and is predicted to keep growing in 2012 and beyond.

- Users claim their preference for apps is due to the quick and easy nature of the navigation.

- Although less popular, browsers will continue to be used to target prospective customers, while apps will become the ideal instrument to engage and increase customer loyalty.

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