According to the author, the mobile ecosystem itself is trying to simplify UX with concepts like deep links, deep views to give users the same experience that existed earlier on the web
The author Sadiq is an entrepreneur and inventor with four US patents. He currently manages strategy at Qwikcilver Solutions (funded by Accel, Helion and Amazon). He loves to write about product and business strategies.
As we keep adding thousands of mobile apps every week to the Android and iOS app stores, it is becoming increasingly evident that the discovery of said apps for consumers in the stores is a virtually unmanageable task.
A gateway or a hindrance?
I would like to compare this to the early days of the nascent web when Yahoo started on the premise that it would become a directory on the web and enable the user to discover different content across the web — the only caveat being that as a developer, you needed to be manually listed on the Yahoo! directory to be discoverable.
However, when Google came along and rationalised the web, it primarily did three things — it made the discovery more dynamic, more neutral and, of course, human independent.
In the mobile world, the Android and iOS stores have become gateways/directories for the discovery of apps. In a sense, the app stores perform a role similar to Yahoo’s at the beginning of the whole web journey.
The browser which ruled the web effectively became the foster child of the mobile world. While this was happening, Google ruled the browser but took some time to get used to the changed situation. However, what it did was not something that came to it naturally. It built a mobile OS and respective native apps, effectively copying Apple’s strategy for the mobile world to such an extent that Google even today seems very comfortable in the new structure.
Resurgence of the mobile web
Things have, however, been changing in the mobile landscape in the past one year.
Google has been trying very hard to evolve the mobile Internet around itself the way it originally did on the web. It has been releasing feature after feature to unlock the content which got stuck in the apps. “Google Now on tap”, “app indexing”, etc. are a step in that direction.
Meanwhile, the ecosystem itself is trying pretty hard to achieve the same objective to simplify user experience with concepts like deep links, deep views, to provide users the same connected and seamless experience as it earlier existed on the web.
The foster child itself is starting to stand on its own — the best example being the latest experience run by Flipkart and Google Chrome to build out a mobile web experience similar to its app.
This might be the beginning of the resurgence of the mobile web as I see it. There was always definitely a case for mobile web but then the browsers were just too basic (when compared to native apps) to give the experiences and speed of responses that developers wanted their users to enjoy.
What is changing now?
It is a dichotomous combination of despair and hope.
Despair comes from the fact that it’s becoming impossible to break into the app store top ranks. The churn in the app store, as a result, remains pretty constant unless you try to rig the store through external means (read TV ads, billboards, etc. or some other ‘shady’ means). The discovery process itself is massively fractured, with manual curations, random rejections and no particular route towards organic growth in the beginning.
Hope lies in the evolution of the browser, which to a large extent today is owned by Google and Apple. It is to Google’s best advantage to evolve the browser in a way that the mobile web apps start mimicking the native ones and hence the Flipkart experiment becomes an irreversible experiential measure.
Snapdeal was quick to follow on with its mobile site and Myntra has also now mentioned publicly that it is abandoning the app only approach and opening up their mobile site.
Google is taking this step by step. It recently announced the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project, which aims to work with publishers to significantly speed up the loading of its mobile site. Ironically, Facebook is on Google’s side this time doing something similar with Facebook Instant Articles which claims to make loading web pages ten times faster.
Unlocking the mobile web
If Google gets even decent success with this approach, it effectively unlocks the content, helps index it and the rest of the story continues as it did with the web. This puts Google again at the centre of the web (mobile in this case). With the majority of the world on Android, it’s only a matter of time that the same behaviour creeps into iOS, the proxy being the Chrome browser.
Apart from content sites, there are long-tail transaction apps which have been in the web business for ages and are still required in the mobile world. For example, if you want to buy an insurance, you want a freelancer to develop your site. Downloading an app, therefore, for each of these things would be a nightmarish experience for the user.
Let’s not forget the memory and bandwidth requirements for the same and that major mobile traffic is now emanating from the developing world, where both bandwidth and storage are precious.
In fact, behind the scenes, quite a few apps have been heavily reliant on the web. It is ironical that the content/news sites have a major presence on the open web and hence the native apps like Flipboard, Google News still index the mobile web of these sites and then lock it into an app. If this content would have been only on their respective apps, it would have signalled the death knell for these apps.
As I see it, two clear trends will start emerging: services that we need most of the time (like communication, maps, payment, etc) will continue to have the majority of the traffic driven through their respective apps. But for the rest of the Internet, the ‘humble’ browser would be the key. One major product hit on the mobile browser is what would be required to bring the focus back to it.
And that’s when we would be welcoming the ‘true’ Internet as it existed on the desktop, back to the mobile world…..
The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, please send us an email at writers[at]e27[dot]co
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