Bye Bye Web, Hello Apps

Future of Web Design London 2010

The web is dead. OK, it isn’t but it might be dying a slow painful death when it comes to how users access online tools and the platforms they use to carry out certain tasks.

This is a consequence of the media saturated world that we live in, a world where on demand is taking charge as audiences control what they watch, when they watch it and how they watch it.

This behaviour extends to the web. I for one seem to be connected to the web almost always. Either in work on my Mac, at home on my laptop or in several places on my iPod Touch. It was even worse when I had an iPhone and could access emails, Twitter and the like, anywhere, anytime.

There are huge advantages to iPhone, iPod Touch’s and the mobile web but it does mean that designers and developers now have new parameters in which to be creative, a world where attention to detail prevails, or at least it should. Will it be that the traditional web will be secondary to mobile/iPhone/iPad sites?

Let the Battle Commence

Let’s be clear, I’m not willing the web to an early grave, in fact there are some really exciting things happening online right now, it’s just that apps are in vogue and companies are tapping into this and releasing some impressive apps that continue to raise the bar in terms of aesthetics and user experience.

Subsequently, companies are finally giving more thought to their mobile web offerings and whilst it is fine for users to access sites in any and all of these ways, I find myself moving toward apps and the mobile web far more frequently than I was 6 to 12 months ago.

Mobile is the New Black

I much prefer using the apps for Facebook and Twitter than I do the traditional websites for these two applications.

The reasons for this are applicable to both cases. I find that using apps on my iPod Touch is a more personal experience, probably because the online world I’m exploring is all in the palm of my hand, literally.

I can also access it away from the formalities of a desk. Slouched on the sofa, sitting in the garden and dare I say, on the toilet. You could take your Mac Book Pro’s to these places too but it isn’t the same really is it?

Facebook

Beyond the localities though, the experience of the apps is better than the corresponding websites. I have serious issues with Facebook as a site, not least because it seems to look different every time I log on. I’m not going to throw any technical terms out here, Facebook to me, is a mess.

I get frustrated using it and then I moan about it on Twitter. The Facebook app however is a delight. The main reasons why I use Facebook are to quickly see what friends are doing, to update my status or to comment on someone else’s and these tasks lend themselves better to the small hand-held screen than they seem to the big, ugly, website.

The Facebook app looks good. I’m not bombarded with ‘reconnect to this person’ or ‘we recommend you add this friend’. I have all my content at the drag of a finger and can quickly do what I need to do as I’m not one to spend a lot of time on Facebook. Therefore being able to quickly check on the iPod Touch or mobile is far more appealing than having to load up the laptop.

Tweetie 2

Even more impressive is Tweetie 2. I have tried several Twitter apps but this one for me has by far the most pleasing and impressive user experience. I can manage multiple accounts, a quick drag across the screen will allow me to respond to people, mark favourites or forward things, it is a slick experience with excellent attention to detail.

Generally of course, it does what the web version does but the beauty in the mobile version is that you can, amongst other features, have threaded direct messages, never lose a tweet with the drafts manager and there is an offline mode.

OK so the Tweetie 2 app doesn’t make the web version redundant but it makes for a better user experience, it is easy to use and it looks great, therefore it is the platform I will choose first and foremost.

The Task at Hand

The mobile web isn’t without its flaws. I find that the task at hand is often a determining factor in the platform I use. If I want to spend a long time researching for a holiday, I’ll use the traditional web, if I want to look at photos of a recent family event on Facebook I would use the traditional site rather than the app.

More and more of our tasks are now being offered in an alternative way. We can bank through the mobile web and we can use it to blog too. This is naturally going to force designers and developers into thinking of their products in new ways.

Not all sites can be carbon copied for the mobile web, they have to be re-imagined. However rather than see this as a hassle let’s see it is a chance for designers to embrace this constraint in a very positive way. It’s an opportunity for designers to distill their apps down to the very basics and focus on only the most essential features.

This is a massive opportunity to improve functionality, have fun and connect to audiences in ways that have until now, been impossible.

That’s the key, users now have a choice, a choice that will have ever increasing options with the introduction of the Apple iPad and whatever technology follows thereafter.

Not to recognise the importance of that choice and the implications for designers and developers is to risk being left behind in our shrinking, media obsessed, ever connected world.

Perhaps you think the traditional web is head and shoulders above the mobile web, if so please comment below. Also, if anyone knows how to remove a friend from the Facebook app please share as I can’t seem to do it but I am reluctant to go to the website to do it.

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Comments

0 comments on “Bye Bye Web, Hello Apps

  1. I think it’s better to see both sides (mobile apps & standard websites) going side by side in the future. No one could really just focus on one of them. (Okay before the mobile apps it was possible, but we’re talking about the future here). And technically the apps who access this kind of data, still use the web to get them :)

    • Hi Johny,

      You are right, seeing them as existing side by side is probably the ideal scenario. For some areas the web will be more favourable and for others the apps will.

      I speak only from my experience of the web and the corresponding apps of course.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Rob.

  2. This topic saddens me – the preference of proprietary, platform-specific web apps is contrary to what Tim Berners-Lee and the framers of the modern public web had in mind. Don’t get me wrong; I 100% agree that, (especially in mobile web) most of advancement of the user experience and the innovation is happening on the custom app/client side of the equation.
    I think this is the result of a current technology gap that hopefully HTML5 and the gen of Open Standard, universal, browser-based tech can overcome.

    What do you think of touch.Facebook.com? For me that’s a step on right direction for mobile web.

    – Thanks.

    • Hey Dave,

      Thanks for your comments. I haven’t used touch.facebook.com but will check it out and try to comment soon.

      Thanks

      Rob.

    • Dave you hit the exact point of why people are choosing the mobile versions. It is the fact that these apps are locked to a single device that allows the user experience to be so optimized so much more than the generic web. I agree and it saddens me to see this happen as well because it feels like a step backwards. Like the browser wars all over again. The point is that without standards on the web the experience can not reach the level attainable by apps and for users (including my self) if there is a better experience that is where they are going to go.

    • I second Dave on this. The more platforms are coming out every day, it won’t make sense to have an app for iPhone, another one for BB, yet another for Android, Windows Phone 7, Palm if they will survive, etc…

      I do see a bright future for mobile web! I’m looking forward to the time when third world countries can join in, trough affordable smart phones!

  3. While I generally agree that apps (in a pre-HTML 5 and Flash-anemic mobile world at least) offer better experiences than their web counterparts, there are also a host of reasons why the web may eventually win the war even while it currently seems to be losing battles across the social platforms that you reference.

    Since social networks are first and foremost about communication, the tools that we use to interact within these environments need to be reflective of the device being used to access them in order to create the best possible user experience. When you look at the amount of time that people spend on Facebook, Twitter et al, a custom interface makes sense because these communication platforms have indeed transcended the “web” and become inherently custom experiences. But the fact is that the web is much, much bigger than the couple dozen (hundred?) apps that the average person will install on their portable device at any given time.

    While the average number of web destinations you might access in a day can be huge, the ones you spend the most time on will most likely be much more manageable, making these frequently accessed sites your prime targets for “applification”. But the real utility of the internet is its boundlessness and the serendipitous relationships between data that require a much more flexible means of navigation than application architecture may allow (unless you consider browsers apps, and really why wouldn’t you?)

    Also, issues such as developing for multiple mobile platforms will make app development too expensive for all but the biggest players whereas the low/no cost economics of web development are much more democratizing and indeed practical.

    What about findability? Sure, app stores facilitate their own version of browsing, but not with the ease and editorial transparency that the internet can be scoured for information. And I’m not even going to mention the walled garden *some* app distribution platforms force platforms and developers to go through.

    All in all, I can see a world where apps and web exist harmoniously side by side, but the internet should remain supreme for some time to come.

  4. I still don’t use mobile so much because there’s still too many sites that don’t work very well on mobile devices.

    What I took from your article was that you were basically saying that mobile apps and their UI are simpler to use than their web counterparts. Are people being pushed towards mobile to browse simply because the web-based UIs are too cluttered / slow / advert-heavy?

  5. it’s just that apps are in vogue and companies are tapping into this and releasing some impressive apps that continue to raise the bar in terms of aesthetics and user experience.

    And right there you debunk your whole reasoning and gist of the article. The web isn’t dying or going to die. It is adapting.

  6. So, modern websites offer us mobile website and device-specific apps that allow us to perform a subset of their functions when away from the desk? Well done for spotting that! Pitching it as a ‘battle’ between the two is a paper-thin attempt at understanding the significance of why these different mechanisms exist, though. Nowhere do you explain why one will ultimately be successful at the expense of the other. In fact, beyond the by-line and some provocative subheadings, there’s nothing in this article to suggest you even believe yourself that one medium will ultimately win out. Instead all you’ve given us is rambling, rhetorical and uninformative dribble.

    • Ben, On this site we absolutely believe in the right of people to comment and add to the conversation. However whenever you comment here you often come across as quite abusive. I am sure you are not like this in real life.

      Instead of ending your comment with things like “all you’ve given us is rambling, rhetorical and uninformative dribble” why not pick Rob up on points you think he has missed. Engage him and let him defend his article. That way we all benefit from the discussion.

      • Keir, addressing (your perception of) my tone in previous comments has absolutely no relevance to the comment posted above. If anything, calling me ‘abusive’ in this context is ad hominem and a distraction from the point; you’re not going to convince me that I should engage with the author further by attacking my character. But even if you hadn’t, I’d say: good luck to you, as this article is quite deserving of the description I gave it originally.

        As a rule of thumb, any article that concludes by prompting people to agree or disagree in the comments is embarassingly demonstrating its lack of a convincing arguments. But that’s only one fundamental problem with the article, besides its authors apparent lack of understanding of the subject matter. It isn’t my role as commentator to engage the author in order to get him to explain what he should have done in his original piece. He’s already had his chance.

      • I believe that Ben has coherently and correctly expressed precisely what is wrong with this article. It is incoherent and makes very little sense. I am still failing to see exactly what point is being made by it?

        Web isn’t dying. Web is an all encapsulating term for all that is online and is entirely device agnostic. To separate between devices and place them against each other is frankly insane. The web evolves and changes according to devices released every single day. Some devices have more currency to develop for, or more active users (see iPhone), so become a ‘trend’ to develop for. These trends are still a spec compared to overall usage though.

        There is no “war” to speak of, they serve different purposes. People on mobile devices have different priorities, are less or more patient depending on the interaction, and generally speaking are entirely different users. PC/Mac based web has to be developed significantly differently to someone sitting on a tiny mobile. It’s a given, and it’s not a war between the two; both have unique challenges that some sites and apps succeed at, and some sites and apps fail at.

        All this article does it says “I use this like this therefore stuff is dying”. If this was the case I’m clearly making a grave error developing any new large format websites. Oh no wait, I’m not. Focus group of one is one.

        I’m not even sure what makes the author particularly qualified or experienced enough to make such bold claims, aside from being a device owner. I may as well use my HTML knowledge to predict the swallow migrating patterns this year.

        All mediums currently about (tablet, mobile, pc/mac) are going to be relevant for a long time. Just because the writer doesn’t use his computer much, it doesn’t mean that EVERYONE has thrown away their laptop/computer and is on their mobile for everything.

        In fact, believe it or not, not everyone has an iPhone. Yes, I know, shocking isn’t it.

      • Ben, I don’t think we will agree on this, which is fine. Have a great day!

  7. One reason I prefer the Facebook app over the Facebook website is the lack of advertising. Being 37 and single, every time I go to Facebook’s website, it feels like the entire right-hand half of my screen is taken over by scantily-clad teenage women who all want a Date! Near Me! Tonight!

    At the moment, presumably the number of people using the apps is relatively tiny, so they can get away with not bothering with advertising. But if the apps catch on, how long until they’re smothered with the kind of irrelevant crud that puts me off visiting the website..?

    • Hi Matt,

      Good point. I think advertising on the Facebook app would spoil it somewhat.

      I too get frustrated with the adverts on the website and all of the ‘reconnect to person x’ etc. I think that probably is a large part of why I turn to the app first, for now at least.

      Rob.

  8. Interesting post Rob. I use the web more than i use apps, call me old fashioned. Whilst i understand where you are coming from, without the web there would be no apps. Apps, voip, mobile are all extensions of the web. I mean how many people misunderstand VOIP or mobile versions of websites? They are built upon the same technologies as you see on the web..

    It’s just about bridging that gap, and that’s where apps come in. The web guys is the _root of everything.

    Thanks for the interesting post, your title sure caught my eye! Nice on.

      • No worries at all. Btw your site (corporate url carsonified) is KILLER, just took some time to appreciate it. It’s so important to have your own style, and judging from your stuff it must have taken some good honest work and dedication to cultivate it.

  9. Maybe when it comes to specifically Facebook and Twitter and other social networks like these, but people use the web for more than social networking.

    • Hey Stephan,

      Although my article above does use social networking as the example I do also prefer the apps for eBay, I Love Film and Amazon too instead of their corresponding websites. But, I would still use their websites more than I would the sites for Twitter and Facebook.

      Rob.

  10. Thanks for putting this question on the table. I think the webdesign world isn’t debatting about it enough.

    I must admit I disagree on your statement. It’s just that companies don’t take the time to develop mobile version of their websites. HTML5 is there on the iphone, on android and other are joining the party. For example, Google has done a great job with their Gmail mobile app (which work offline). We are more and more using webapps on our desktop, one of the many reasons is because we can access them on whatever platform we’re using. Why are we asking to return into that same old prison on our mobile hardware ?

    Native apps are challengers that will only win because of the laziness in the web design and web developer world. These apps only exist because we think we can’t create mobile version of websites as powerful as native apps. It might be true in some cases, but we’re note really trying.

    When the first iPhone came out, Steve Jobs said we didn’t need an SDK, the web and its technologies are enough. That’s the one thing that makes me buy an iPhone. I’m really sorry they didn’t keep on the original philosophy…

    Are we trashing the web because of the eyecandy the native, proprietary, apps provide ? That’s a big step backward in my opinion, not sure that this is the more important thing…

    In my opinion, the future is in open data (accessibility and interoperability…) and is about delivering a specific web layout depending on the hardware and the use of this hardware (computer vs phone vs tablet). We don’t have to wait for Apple to improve or create the mobile web, I don’t want that kind of web !

  11. Love iPhone & most apps. Barely use the laptop anymore.

    However, I’m not necessarily a fan of mobile sites. Biggest gripe are websites that “force you” into their mobile versions without a choice or a clear, easy-to-spot link (which should always be right at the top) to exit them quickly (such as Amazon & YouTube, grrr!) That right there should be a HUGE No-No to website owners, ie:

    Do Not take away my freedom to choose whether I want your regular site or your mobile version. Often, a regular site is much preferable since I can “pinch & zoom” my way around it.

    When it comes to Twitter, though, the apps are great.

    (Since I spend so much time using iPhone for everything, when I do have to use the laptop again, I noticed it is so much harder to use the mouse since I am now totally “touch-trained” :)

  12. Love iPhone & most apps. Barely use the laptop anymore.

    However, I’m not necessarily a fan of mobile sites. Biggest gripe are websites that “force you” into their mobile versions without a choice or a clear, easy-to-spot link (which should always be right at the top) to exit them quickly (such as Amazon & YouTube, grrr!) That right there should be a HUGE No-No to website owners, ie:

    Do Not take away my freedom to choose whether I want your regular site or your mobile version. Often, a regular site is much preferable since I can “pinch & zoom” my way around it.

    When it comes to Twitter, though, the apps are great.

    (Since I spend so much time using iPhone for everything, when I do have to use the laptop again, I noticed it is so much harder to use the mouse since I am now totally “touch-trained” :)

  13. I think we are going to the wrong side..

    We do not have to change the web to fit in iPhones, iPads and etc, this itens must change to fit the web. Its impossible keep many versions of an page online and updated, it reminds me when we have one site to each navigator agent.

    The wolrd of moment for me its make all Standard.

  14. Inciting title, Rob.
    As much as some people might be a little protective of the old ways (understandable!) the naked truth is that there’s a shift in motion.
    Users have realized that most of their needs can be tackled using simplified, focused solutions that take all the clutter of the so called traditional web and translate into well functioning apps with really good user experience.
    It’s really interesting to see some of the mobile inovations feeding the web and vice versa. It’s like the old metaphor of the kid that only gets better when he gets his ass kicked by the big bully.
    Long live the mobile big bully kid.
    Congrats on the post.

  15. Interesting theory here Rob and in the current landscape, I think you’re correct. Unfortunately in the near future I don’t think that will be the case. As web technologies continue to catch up with application technologies, you will see more and more similarities between the two. With the emergence of HTML 5/CSS3 and developers gaining a better grasp of AJAX, applications will begin to become obsolete and everything will move towards web-based. You’re already beginning to see this in some places (e.g. Google Voice) as well as being used to get around proprietary app stores. The catch for corporations will be the fact that you can usually charge for applications where as they’re still figuring out how to charge for the web. Maybe as the web becomes more application-like that will change.

  16. What using an iPhone to browse the web and use apps has shown me is that it’s quite possible to have alternative, highly usable versions of the same content. It’s given me a choice that wasn’t really there before, which, I reckon, is pretty awesome.

  17. This is a good article Rob thanks for bringing it up. I’m not sure it was mentioned (I skim read a bit fast) but there’s a large commercial benefit to mobile websites vs apps for smaller companies. The investment required to produce an iPhone/Android/Upcoming other platforms from Nokia takes a lot of time and therefore cash.

    On the other hand a mobile website that’s designed specifically for mobile can be much more cost effective.

    Take Japan for instance. Mobile phone use has always been years ahead there than in the US or UK and for years companies have been deploying effective mobile applications over what is effectively an advanced version of WAP and driving revenue on small handsets.

    If people return to the point of what they are trying to achieve with mobile and not being gimicky with apps, then I think mobile websites would increase in popularity.

    Campaign monitor created an effective mobile app using jQuery Touch so it’s browser based and works like a native iPhone app and is perfect to use. You can even create an application icon for it that boots up Safari – now that’s cost effective stuff.

    For more info on mobile and an article I wrote (sorry I know I wrote it but I believe it’s related and of value like this article) on planning mobile marketing, there’s an article on wise marketer (needs free registration but it’s a great site), here: http://bit.ly/bcKoDb

  18. Hey! I really enjoy your article, I agree with you about Facebook and Twitter Apps, Now I’m using Echofon on my iPod Touch and I really love it, I just get lost on twitter’s web site it’s kind of confusing you know…

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    By the way I’m from Colombia and you have one more follower on twitter ;)

    See U!

  19. I was thinking about this just the other day. I have found myself checking email/facebook/twitter on my iphone while sitting at my computer.

  20. Interesting point of view but, the way I see it, your article is not really about web vs apps, but rather about laptops vs mobile devices.
    So the web is not dead or dying, it might be just “reincanating” :)

  21. I mostly agree with this, but this isn’t just limited to mobile apps. Some desktop apps blow their counterpart websites out of the water. I recently started using Twitter and Facebook again thanks to TweetDeck (which is totally sweet.) It’s all of what I want from these programs without any ads or crap I don’t want.

    The challenge for businesses in the future will be how to give people web services and still make money off of them. If everybody uses the ad free app, how does the proprietor still make money without compromising simplified the user experience people obviously want.

    Another thing to consider is the fact Google is making a big push for fiber optic networks that blows todays ISP service out of the water to the tune of 100ish times the speed. If this gains steam (c’mon, it’s Google, it’ll gain steam), we could, in a short period of time, have online Photoshop and 3D Animation type programs at our fingertips. I don’t know about you, but there is no way in hell I’d do any real design work or animation on a phone. A browser app though, sure, I’d try it.

    Long story short, I think many desktop apps may take a hit, traditional websites with better functionality might take their market share, and mobile will quickly crest (in 2-3 years). There’s only so much crap you want to do on your phone.

  22. Instead of heralding the death of the web, I wish the author had championed the potential of web applications. Where I work, we considered developing an iPhone app (and may still do so) but realized that our content needs to meets the needs an increasingly fragmented mobile ecosystem. A web app is the way to do that. It’s true that downloadable apps have their place and can often offer a superior experience. But by endorsing native applications over the web, you are effectively promoting closed ecosystems that promote lock-in by the various mobile companies.

    Of course, Apple, Google, Microsoft and other like native mobile apps. Native apps encourage their users not to abandon their products. But they are not cost-effective to produce for multiple platforms. And they do not encourage rapid development or iterations.

    Like others here, I would rather see us embrace the open mobile web and promote web technologies and standards. Already we are seeing a fragmentation in browsers (WebKit vs non-Webkit) that is bad for users and developers.

  23. This is an intresting article, and I do agree with the most part of what you have commented on. Just last week I was reading an article on how Google predict that within a few years time, desktop will infact migrate to mobile. This is just a sugestion, and I am excited as it will bring a lot more oppertunities to users, and the developers making these apps.

  24. Two things:

    1. You forget to mentiont hat the mobile landscape is fragmented when it comes to apps. Developing the same app for the iPhone and Android is doable (though repeating some code); beyond that – no thanks.

    2. Burst that tech-geek bubble and get out into the real world and see how many people are (NOT) using iPhones/Androids. It’s rather a lot of people. Here in the UK the only place I’ve seen a take-up that would make me choose an app over a webapp was in central London, and quite a few were Blackberry devices.

    Yes, an app’s interface can be very polished, and browsers/webapp developers need easy ways to leverage an improved UI (and gain for free what a phone can give). But does that say the end of the web app? I think not…

  25. In my opinion using apps on a mobile device such as the iPhone for example definitely is a better experience.

    However, this kind of device got special requirements as well, most of all due to the size of the screen itself which could be one of the reasons why a regular website such as facebook for example doesn’t work well. (Admittedly, the user experience of facebook isn’t better on a larger screen either)

    This said I think right now and probably even in the future, both will complement each other and so it’s definitely a chance for designers, especially if the technology gap will be closed by HTML5 and CSS3 sometime soon.

  26. Rob, cheers for the post. I’ve been thinking about this a fair bit lately.

    From the point of view of a web designer/developer, I can’t deny that there is a shift of focus in the air. Using the web, with a conventional mouse and keyboard is already starting to feel archaic when you compare the experience to a touch screen.

    I think the introduction of higher res hand-held devices like the iPad are going to impact the industry I work in (web), but as you said, this can be in a positive way.

    IMO practitioners that clutch to the traditional web experience will be left behind. Maybe not now, but within the next 2-3 years.

    At the end of the day we’re creating experiences for ‘users’ and if it turns out that 80% of people choose mobile over traditional web, then I know where I’m going to be…

  27. I think we see two types of behaviors that are somewhat clashing: browsing and connecting.

    The web was designed for browsing.
    Now we want to connect more but the web is not designed for connecting. This is why the Facebook web page does not feel “right”.

    Mobile apps are free from the web browsing model, free from the “sit at your computer” model, and have therefore an opportunity to connect better.