Marketers and developers have been arguing about whether apps or web prevail on mobile since Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone in 2007.
Google rose to power in the golden days of the web, while Apple, Facebook, and others have made inroads on the search and advertising giant in the age of the app. While the early stages of this battle have gone to the app, which owns 80-90 percent of users’ time on mobile devices, the war is far from over.
The truth? There’s going to be a convergence. And we see the front line of this struggle shifting even now.
We’ve been predicting it at TUNE since 2014. While apps continue to consume the lion’s share of mobile engagement, the web sits on the throne of navigation. When it comes to finding what you need, the search and linking structure of the web is superior; when it comes to unbeatable user experience, the app is king.
The question is, will the web gain the high engagement and long session times that apps have today, or will apps gain the navigation that the web so elegantly provides? The answer is… both.
The linkability of apps is vastly improving. In the world of apps, we call the way one app screen links to another as a deep link. Deep links are relatively new to the scene, but are quickly being adopted by developers and marketers across every industry.
This goes a long way to help me find what I’m looking for through apps, but it is only one piece to the puzzle of app discovery and navigation.
Enter Contextual Search
Perhaps the most noticeable convergence of apps and web recently came from Google. Google Search now provides results for apps. This might seem simple enough, but Google had to index over 300 billion pages within apps to provide these contextual results. If I’m searching for a Justin Bieber video (which I would never do, honestly), I don’t just want a list of a bunch of apps that have music videos. I need an app that actually has Belieber videos.
Google provides this kind of contextual search now with apps, and marketers will take advantage of the ability to be discovered through Google Search.
The biggest obstacle for apps is the need to download from an app store. This will not be an issue in the future.
Already, there are technologies designed to help consumers ‘stream’ apps without downloading. In fact, Google acquired such a service last year called Agawi. Once there is no longer a need to download, apps begin to take on a more web-like quality. Imagine an experience where you move seamlessly from the content you read to the products you want to the entertainment you love, and all through webified apps.
Still, the internet is the fabric that connects apps, allows simple transactions, and captures millions of eyeballs quickly. In 2016 we’ll see streamlined web experiences that ease the path to purchase first, and then deepen the experience in an app. The web helps avoid app store barriers, and apps help by retain customers. As each continue to evolve they take on more qualities of the other until the difference is nearly indistinguishable.
As Ray Kurzweil predicts the singularity of man and machine, the same will come true for apps and the web, but on a much shorter timeline. The problem for marketers, who have just started to come to terms with mobile, is how to act and react to these new changes. As a marketer, how do I decide which channels to invest in? As a business, how do I decide which platform to build on? The answer comes down to focus.
If you’re looking for quick, one-time engagement, developing for the web browser may suit you. If you are focused on nailing the retention and regular engagement of your customers, there is no better place than an app. You have control, measurement, and proven habitual activity in apps that you won’t find on the web today.
At TUNE, we recommend that marketers and developers focus on the mechanics that matter now, with an eye to the future. While the industry heads toward a convergence, you are on your own path of web and app convergence. It is a path that is unique to you and the relationship you have with customers.
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A digital marketer by background, Peter is the former CEO of TUNE, the enterprise platform for partner marketing. In 2018, he sold TUNE’s mobile measurement product to Branch, unifying measurement and user experience. He led TUNE’s efforts to bring better management technology and automation to marketing partnerships, across affiliates, influencers, networks, and business development relationships. Follow @peterhamilton