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Does HTML5 make mobile app downfall inevitable?

An Adobe Mobile Study found that consumers prefer the mobile Web over smartphone applications, which has huge implications for mobile advertisers, retailers and content providers.

Within the consumer products, shopping, media and entertainment categories, 66 percent of respondents cited that they prefer the mobile Web for accessing content compared to 34 percent who cited a preference for downloadable applications.

?I am not a great proponent of apps as a commerce destination to drive reach and frequency with your shoppers,? said Gary Schwartz, president of Impact Mobile, New York. ?There is tons of value for the shopper in certain apps but they do not necessarily drive your retail sales goals.

?The app can become lost on the phone top,? he said. ?Phone fragmentation makes development costly. And your first sales job is selling the consumer on the app and not on your product.

?Finally, with Web you own the relationship with your shopper. With an app, Apple is managing this for you. Mobile Web functionality is improving with HTML5.?

Mobile advertising
Borrell Associates forecasts that spending for ads delivered via mobile applications in the United States will explode from $310 million this year to $8.4 billion by 2015.

Comparatively speaking, ads delivered via mobile browser are expected to reach $3.4 billion by year-end and will reach $10.9 billion in 2015.

This year advertising via the mobile Web will comprise 53.4 percent of total mobile ad spend, while in-app ads will be just 4.9 percent of total spend.

Total mobile advertising spend for 2010 is expected to reach $6.4 billion this year and $42.6 billion in 2015.

Sounds impressive. But if Americans prefer the mobile Web and marketers follow consumers? eyeballs, then the future for mobile applications can not be too bright.

The argument for mobile applications rests on the fact that consumers who download them are thought to be engaging with that content regularly.

But having applications on one?s phone and actually using them are two different things, according to Pew Internet Project.

Pew found that although 35 percent of adults have mobile phones with applications downloaded onto them, only two-thirds of these consumers actually use the apps.

And, research from Pinch Media found that less than 5 percent of applications continue to be used 20 days after being downloaded.

This really changes things for mobile advertisers who are trying to reach consumers via advertisements in applications. It raises the question of whether the ads are being seen.

Mobile content providers too should question the opportunities within the application space. For example a big-name publisher such as The Weather Channel has a mobile presence across various properties: the mobile Web, apps, SMS and so on.

But a smaller publisher, trying to form the first steps of its mobile strategy should definitely go with a mobile Web site to start out, since reach is greater, maintenance is easier and the development cost is lower.

Retailers should go by the same rules.

Apps versus Web
Marketers will gain more via a mobile Web site for several reasons. 

Development costs are lower for creating a mobile Web site than the price of developing a mobile application.
 
As mentioned before, the potential market size for impressions and clicks is higher on the mobile Web than within applications.

Additionally, with the mobile Web, marketers have the search opportunity, meaning consumers can find them easier just by searching on Google or Bing.

One of the most common challenges with applications is it is hard for them to get found in the cluttered application stores.

Also, applications actually need to be downloaded and can only run on specific devices.

Mobile Web sites can be optimized to render well on a plethora of devices, with no download or installation requirements.

Once an application is built, it is hard to support and maintain it since every time there is an upgrade or a fix, the application must go through an approval process.

Additionally, users have to reinstall to get the upgrade.

Mobile Web sites are easier to support and maintain because the owner of the site has complete access and control. And if changes are made, there is no need to upgrade because all users see the newest version.

The latest generation of mobile applications taught consumers that they can do more with their phones than just talk and text.

Mobile phones now offer a utility for us to better interact and transact.    

?Apps have proliferated primarily to address the shortcomings of device processing power and network bandwidth,? said Saj Cherian, principal at Valhalla Partners, Vienna, VA. ?As faster smartphones gain mass adoption, 4G networks are stood up, and more processing is done in the cloud, we will go back to the Web. 

?We will get the rich user experience we have come to know via apps by merely browsing the Web,? he said. ?HTML5 will be a catalyst as well as a host of other enabling technologies, such as better browsers and cloud-based services.?

Benefits of apps
Of course, applications do have their bright side.

Developers can use all device capabilities within the various functionalities of the application such as GPS, the phone?s camera, voice, address book and the calendar.

With the mobile Web, there are some limitations of what can be done. It is possible to leverage GPS, the online data storage feature and video on mobile Internet sites that are built with HTML5.

But access to the phone?s native capabilities is a challenge because of security and privacy concerns. 

"Although interaction with the mobile content varies across industries, delivering a positive user experience is paramount to growing the channel," said Sheila Dahlgren, senior director of product marketing at Adobe, San jose, CA.

"Respondents generally favor the browser experience over downloadable apps," she said.  

Final take
Giselle Tsirulnik is senor editor of Mobile Marketer

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