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Geertjan's Blog

  • May 13, 2017

Beyond Mobile App vs. Mobile Browser

Geertjan Wielenga
Product Manager

The continual discussion of whether to create a native/hybrid mobile app or to create an app accessed via the browser, has two recent alternatives. The starting point is to recognize that most people use about 5 apps on their mobile device and ignore the other 30 or so that are there by default. Most people have no clue about which apps are available and don't go searching for them randomly in an app store. Instead, they go to their browser on their mobile phone, access the page that interests them, e.g., the website of their newspaper of choice or hotel they'd like to book, and then use the browser to read the newspaper or book their hotel.

In this reality, two new-ish approaches have arisen:

  • Progessive Web Apps (PWA). In the scenario described above, once you're on the site of your newspaper or hotel, you're prompted to download an app that will reopen that browser page or start up a dedicated app, i.e., a native/hybrid app. For example, normally, you're not aware that your newspaper also has an app and hence you don't go to the app store to look for that app. Instead, you access the newspaper in the browser. If that browser-based newspaper is a PWA, it will let you download an app, yes, the app you didn't know the newspaper made available but which your being in the browser reading the newspaper provides an opportunity for the organization behind the newspaper to make available directly to you the app connected to the newspaper.
  • Chatbots. In response to the same scenario described above, chatbots integrate with your existing apps, e.g., SnapChat, Facebook, WhatsApp, providing a purely conversational text-based communication mechanism for interacting around some topic, e.g., when you're in IKEA, you get a message via one or more of your existing apps to ask you what you're looking for and then the IKEA chatbot helps narrow down your aspirations and directs you to where you can fulfil them. A side effect is that there's no user interface at all, simply text, i.e., we're back on the command line in many ways, with chatbots.
"Bots will start replacing mobile apps. No more looking for an app, downloading an app, updating an app, or managing an app." — Gartner, 2017

Interesting developments and, yes, neither are new, though both should always be included in any discussion on mobile app vs. browser app.

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