It's time to stop debating mobile app vs. mobile web

Guest editorial for Celtra’s Content Channel: This article was written by Daniel Meehan, CEO of PadSquad, a mobile software company whose adaptive design technology restyles and reformats publishers’ content into compelling experiences for the mobile web.

Anyone else tired of the native app versus mobile web debate? I sure am, and one of my 2015 resolutions is to simply stop having that discussion.

But before we put it to rest, let’s run through the facts one last time.

We’ve all heard people call 2014 the “year of mobile.” There’s no denying the fact that, for the first time in the U.S., adults spent more time with tablets and smartphones than with desktop computers or laptops. In many countries, such as India, mobile search queries actually exceeded desktop queries. And then consider that there are five billion mobile devices out there today, compared to about two billion PCs.

If last year was the “year of mobile,” I believe 2015 may be about the “disappearance” of mobile. With mobile getting so ubiquitous, it should pretty much disappear from our consciousness, at least from a consumer perspective.

In other words, mobile is becoming so much a part of the fabric of our lives that we hardly even notice it. Differentiations between going online via desktop, tablet and mobile will soon sound quaint. The assumption is that we are, by and large, accessing the digital world from our mobile devices. And when we talk of digital marketing, we will pretty much mean the mobile web. Mobile will increasingly become digital itself.

Stop wasting time and money on app dev

What does this have to do with the app vs. mobile web war? Well, when you think of the digital world this way, a lot of the old arguments also begin to sound quaint.

For consumers, native apps remain popular and useful. Consumers are used to accessing a group of select apps on their mobile devices for entertainment (content and gaming), social connection (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), messaging (WhatsApp, Line, SnapChat) and utility (Mapping/Location, weather, banking). Savvy marketers also use these apps to engage this audience further, whether that’s to entice us to download new apps, re-engage with apps we’ve already downloaded or simply for brand recognition.

But the audience for most apps is limited, and the fight for market share is fierce. While the number of native apps has exploded in the past years, consumers aren’t adopting them at an equal pace. In fact, according to Nielsen, the average number of native apps used per month has not changed much since 2011. It’s only natural that there’s competition for screen space, in the same way competing ketchups fight for shelf space at your local supermarket. There’s only so much available.

With this in mind, content publishers have little reason to throw their precious, scant resources at app development. Native mobile apps can be expensive and resource-intensive to create, manage and promote. And in many cases, both large and small content publishers receive significantly more (10X to 20X in some cases) traffic via their existing websites than from those who engage with their apps.

Therefore, for most content publishers, the “native app versus mobile web” discussion is, and has been, mostly a waste of time. Web-only publishers gain the majority of their traffic from search and social media referrals, rather than from users engaging with an app. Reaching their digital website audience is a far better model for them to distribute and rapidly monetize their content. And as more readers use mobile devices, it’s obviously smart to focus more on the mobile web.

Break down the mobile walls

The ubiquitous mobile web will change us all.

For consumers, it will change our behavior as we continue to find, discover and engage with content on websites — only now, it’s more often on smaller screens. For companies and content publishers that grasp that digital is now really mobile — and craft their strategies accordingly — it will create exciting challenges and opportunities in the year ahead.

As we move firmly into 2015, please join me — let’s stop debating mobile native apps versus mobile web. Instead, let’s focus on how mobile is now the new medium of choice for digital media, for publishers and marketers alike.

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