This isn’t a new debate, but it has a new proponent: At a recent conference, Keith Rabois, chief operating officer of mobile payments company Square, told the audience that mobile apps for smartphones and tablets ultimately will be the death of the web browser. People, he said, will move toward apps as the native experience, leaving web browsing in the dust—or at most a last resort.
Rabois made the comments at VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit in Sausalito, Calif. He certainly has a vested interest in being right, given that Square as a payment solution is very much app-driven and relies on the success of smartphones and tablets. He’s also on the board of Yelp, which he cited, saying that despite the fact that Yelp’s app has one-tenth as many users as its website, 33 percent of Yelp searches originate on the app—proof in his mind that it’s more engaging.
But the argument seems relatively thin (not to mention biased) when you consider advancements in the mobile web, particularly how the emergence of HTML5 changes the equation for mobile browsing. We’ve covered this topic before, asserting that developers in particular need to not get so blinded by the app-creation opportunity that they lose focus on the broader strategy of apps complemented by a presence on the mobile web. And the limitations of mobile networks certainly can’t be overlooked either: Until mobile connection speeds can match what consumers and businesses are accustomed to on their desktops, mobile isn’t going to truly replace anything.
The basic argument for not ignoring either mobile apps or the mobile web remains solid, at least until the likes of Square or Yelp or others truly discredit the web browsing experience: While apps are popular and engaging and that popularity is only likely to increase, developers should remain aware of users’ increasing patience for the browsing experience and make that a critical part of any comprehensive mobile strategy.