Competition is heating up between smartphone applications and mobile browsers, prompting brands to rethink the future of portable devices and software platforms. Some techies say that applications popular with the youth market will displace search engines. Others claim the future belongs to APIs that allow browsers to adopt the best features of applications.
“For smartphone users, mobile web is the killer app,” says Nielsen’s David Gill at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference in Austin, TX. Given the popularity of the smartphone, mobile web – formerly known as WAP – is back in a big way.
Smartphone applications have been the darlings of digital media the past year. Apple has transformed the mobile user experience with its highly successful iPhone App Store, opening the way for advertisers and publishers to engage consumers in a meaningful way that WAP sites had failed to do.[more]
Nielsen predicts Google’s rival Android system will be on 50 million devices within two years, enhanced with apps like Shopper, which takes a picture of a product or barcode, uses Image Recognition technology to source suppliers and compare prices, and then completes the transaction via integrated m-payment.
However, SXSW panelist David Gill observes that applications are not problem-free. Apps will proliferate from 100,000s to millions, leaving brands with a distribution challenge. Also developers of apps are in a “sandbox” which is a barrier to scalability. Apple’s SDK, moreover, does not permit third-party m-commerce solutions, obliging publishers to monetize via Apple, for a 30 percent fee.
For the network carriers, applications can threaten disintermediation. Speaking on the same panel, Dan Applequist of Vodafone (part owners of Verizon) described current efforts to promote mobile web best practices and, through an open source initiative entitled W3C, to enable WAP developers to integrate the same features that app developers use – such as geo-locate API, camera, accelerometer etc., adding design toolkits like Canvas and SVG, and generally replicating for mobile web browsers all the functionality, utility and Wow factor that has made smartphone apps so popular.
Fellow panelist David Hewitt of Sapient pointed to advances in Sprint’s 4G network, with speeds 10x faster than 3G browsing, and said that over the next two years, delivering m-commerce solutions will prove to be one of the carriers’ key driving forces. However, he also noted that, for the foreseeable future, brands will be most active in the App store space because this is what the 13-17 year youth demographic is used to. Apps are less clunky than mobile web pages and they enjoy what Applequist described as an “Install Event,” making them easy to monetize.
And for many tech and media brands, terms such as youth demographic and monetize are buzzwords, and that may mean apps are going to be around for quite a while.