The era of the mobile app is over

“Sorry, thatʼs it for mobile apps. It’ll only last about three more years, or less,” I said to a client who was consulting my company on developing new mobile apps. I didnʼt mean to turn them down on this new business opportunity, nor did I want to cool off their fleeting passion to be part of the heated fad of apps-building.

My only intention was to stop them from spending a fortune on building apps that will not give them any ROI from their very limited marketing budget.

I closed the meeting without asking some key questions: What if your proposed apps have low or even zero download rate? What if the poor user experience results in low retention rate like many, many other apps? What if your app is not ʻcoolʼ for very long and ends up being deleted by users who have every right to not use it?

iOS, Android or Windows?

Compatibility is one of the major issues that has slowed down the global apps business in the last two to three years. You just canʼt build an app for iPhone and then copy and paste to Android or vice versa. Also, you canʼt just hope your Android version will run smoothly on the many, ever-changing mobile devices from Samsung, HTC, Sony Ericsson, and others. Not to mention apps running on the new Windows phones like the Nokia Lumia 900. (Additional note: For an app to deliver satisfactory user interface experience, up to four sets of graphics are required, even within the Android platform.)

Without a clear vision and development roadmap of what an app can be, itʼs time-consuming and costly to update or change something in your mobile apps. Your app agency will need time to rewrite the code in the programme, test and—this is the most time-consuming part—resubmit your apps to the app stores. Maintenance will slow down your marketing initiatives, sales programme and even e-commerce sales results.

Mobile apps offer fantastic cost efficiency to keep marketing materials updated over traditional ink-on-paper, if—and only if—careful planning took place in the beginning of the mobile app development initiative. And this is not something marketers are quite used to just yet.

Technology evolution

With powerful cloud computing, speedy 4G LTE / HSPDA+ networks and HTML5, the user experience will be greatly enhanced in terms of content richness, functionality and interactivity. In fact, these factors mean that web applications will be able to provide interactivity that goes far beyond traditional static experiences. With enhanced performance, compatibility, and—most important to clients—low maintenance and low setup costs, this opens the door to developing application-level websites that perform functions most marketers deem only apps can provide. In turn this means freedom from tedious app store approval.

Three-screen dreams

Most clients have websites, mobile apps, social-media platforms and even TV apps to manage and maintain, and they have experienced the clumsiness and workload of updating every little bit of information across so many platforms.

So far, there is no product out there in the market yet to serve the need of building just one master online platform for all other online platforms (the vaunted three screens: PC, mobile device and TV). However I am sure HTML5, once again, shall overtake mobile apps on the mobile platform.

Samson Tong is regional director of integrated marketing agency Cre8PLUS

This post first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific.

  • Andrew Japp

    Good article, start with a big scary statement and then follow it up. I don’t think mobile apps are over quite yet but there will certainly be a move to HTML5 technology and liberation from app stores following the FT. It is what we at Digital White have been preaching for a couple of years now.

    However I also think the possibility of “one master online platform for all other online platforms” isn’t an impossibility and Mobile Hybrid App Development through Titanium is nearing a complete solution.

  • Murat

    I hope people don’t actually pay you for advice

  • Ben C

    I like the idea of the mobile web for road to purchase marketing and an app either where you wish to use the native aspects of the phone (gps, accel, etc) or as part of a post purchase permission based marketing strategy

  • andrew

    This is nothing new there has been lots of articals over the past few years saying ohh HTML5 will be the app killer yet apps are more popular then ever. The lack of support for html5 and also the development time is what needs to be improved before it is a real contender in the APP world

  • Gregory

    No it’s not over and won’t be for a while.

    As a professional in the web industry I wish it’d never happen but as a smartphone and tablet user I simply love the apps. They are optimised for the device and indeed being able to access the phone features is a plus.

  • Tom Elliott

    Interesting view and I would largely agree, as do many experts who are coming round to the view that the web model will dominate:

    It will be a while yet but HTML 5 and canvas element is getting closer to the ‘master online platform’, which will become more viable when IE7 and 8 bite the dust.

    Plus we can already access the accelerometer, compass, GPS and gesture events via Web Apps… It will take a lot longer though for Web Apps to prevail where high end graphics are concerned. I’ve seen numerous JS and canvas based animations and games grind to a halt even on the latest iPhone and iPad

  • Neil Lakeland

    I don’t think the era of the mobile app is over, although I can see why you chose that as a title – it certainly gets attention! However, I do agree with you regarding the issues surrounding apps – namely compatibility, cost and the fact that by and large companies are developing them without researching whether they serve a need for the end-user.

    Unless you need to access the phone’s OS in some shape or form (GPS, camera, contacts etc) much better, in my view, to spend the money building a mobile website (developed on the back of existing analytics data of what people are using their phones to search for on your current site) which can then be updated via the same database that feed your main website. You still get mobile integration but at a fraction of the cost and it serves on all phones regardless of OS.

    Unfortunately apps are ‘sexy’ and therefore sold as the thing which will get your brand currency in the youth market.

  • Peter McCormack

    We are building an app for using Sencha Touch which will deploy to the mobile web, all mobile platforms as an app and the website…that is all which is needed. Web apps are a poor experience and will die.

  • Nick Barnett

    Compatibility has always and will always be a major issue for bespoke applications. With so many different handsets and operating systems to contend with, and new models and OS updates coming out all the time, ensuring that your app works perfectly across all platforms is a never-ending task. Not to mention costly. Each time you need to update or change some part of your app, you’ll be invoiced for the necessary changes to the app and its resubmission to the app store.

    For companies that want a great app, but don’t want to fork out tens of thousands of pounds on its design and upkeep, it’s well worth looking at template-based app building services, such as Mippin. Mippin has already invested in building native app templates for each device platform; their template for iOS is clearly a native iPhone (or iPad) app, whereas their template for Windows Phone is distinctively native Windows Phone, with Pivot and Panoramic UI options. Ditto for Android and BlackBerry. By building these app templates upfront, Mippin can build native apps for any publisher – and keep them up to date – at a fraction of the cost and time to market typically required.

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  • Scott Jenson

    I agree that web apps have a huge advantage but we have to be honest that native apps today deliver a much smother (and usually faster) experience to web. That and the small issue that web apps tend to be lowest common denominator.

    This doesn’t invalidate your point, quite the contrary. I’m very supportive of web apps. It’s just a trend that needs significant technological growth to really take off. We need to continue to push the handset makers to support the new HTML5 APIs so web apps can have the same capabilities.

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  • Arthur Cannon

    Agreed but from a technology wise Android is java crap and control the market but Manufacturers and operators don’t want a any monopoly.