Apr 26, 2011

Why Mobile Web is the Foundation of the Best Mobile Design

Holly Hagen's picture
Holly Hagen
Senior Visual Designer

Like most new wave mobile designers out there, I became interested in the mobile space ever since I got my first iPhone. And while I was an iPhone user, it was great. Well, sort of... To be more specific, Safari on the iPhone was great and those damn Angry Birds sucked me into gaming again. All of this could not balance out my hatred for how much making calls on the phone blew (but who really uses that feature anyway?) and I really didn't jive with the ecosystem of apps (and still don't). I remember reading Chris Messina's post on The Death of the URL and decided it was time to jump ship. So I bounced around a bit and started to cover my bases. I checked out a Nokia phone and a Blackberry and suffered for about six months then smartened up just as Android was taking off, switched carriers and got myself the HTC Evo. Gotta say, it's been great so far! Fantastic browser (key to a great smart phone), lack of dependency on a computer—Cloud FTW!, and the numerous ways to customize anything you want (which is also the #1 reason why Apple fanboys hate Android).

Anyway, let's get back to the real reason I'm sharing my mobile life story... As much as I like Android, I do think they are behind in the development space. And not to fault the difficulty in developing for Android, but Apple really "guided" the market to believe that everything needed an app. And now, with so many other devices on the market, creating a ecosystem of apps is hardly sustainable. Trust me! So when I came across this great article a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was perfect to share. There are some great stats on the current mobile market and the potential reach you have with mobile web vs. a standalone app.

Here are some highlights:

  • The most successful iPhone app project, which becomes viral enough to be passed around to every user on the platform, would ultimately reach only 7% of the total mobile market. A mobile website or mobile web app, on the other hand, has the potential to reach 100% of mobile web users.
  • Many iPhone apps require the current version of iOS to run, which can’t be run by first-generation iPod touches. According to Chitika research, these devices account for almost 10% of iPhone traffic, which could lower your reach even more. Android devices are even more fragmented, and could require additional development time to make your applications accessible to the already-limited app market. Mobile websites and web apps built with a progressive enhancement strategy, however, should be accessible to most users regardless of device.
  • It’s a myth that users prefer a mobile app experience, largely propagated, I suspect, by those who are looking to sell additional services. Research shows that most users, in fact, prefer mobile websites over mobile apps (Adobe, eMarketer, InsightExpress), and that more people use mobile websites than apps.
  • Users of search engines will likely not find your app in Google or Bing unless they’re looking for it. You can optimize the app for app stores and to some extent for Google, but it’s a different process that requires some specialized knowledge for success. As of this writing, it’s highly unlikely that searchers will find your app when searching on high volume, competitive keywords in search engines outside of app stores unless you buy a search ad. Given that 21.4% of mobile users in the United States search on their phones, a brand that wants the content it creates to find an audience would be wise not to ignore traffic from mobile search.

Check out the full article and let me know what you think.