Forrester: Apps vs. Mobile Web Debate ‘Irrelevant’

In what’s sure to be a controversial title (and a bit misguided), Forrester has released a report called “Why The ‘Web Versus Application’ Debate Is Irrelevant To Your Mobile Product Strategy.”

More of a headline grabber than an actual premise, the report maintains that mobile publishers and product developers shouldn’t get caught up in the “apps vs. mobile Web” debate, and instead do both. Here’s the exec summary.

Consumer product strategists designing product experiences for mobile phones and smartphones must decide on their development priorities across the mobile Web and applications. While some believe this is a fundamental “either/or” choice, current consumer behavior suggests that consumers are using both. The more frequently consumers access the mobile Internet, the more they download and use apps and vice versa. Despite the improvement of mobile browsing technologies, we expect both mobile apps and the mobile Web to coexist going forward. Consumer product strategists should not let technology dictate their product marketing choices; they instead need to ask themselves which services they need to mobilize for which audiences. They should also prepare for an era in which mobile services will be just one of many consumer touchpoints on increasingly connected platforms and local devices.

That’s all well and good, but it’s wishful thinking for start-ups and mobile newbies that don’t have the resources to choose “all of the above.” That is compounded by the fragmentation in the app world between different operating systems and SDKs.

Even those with the resources to develop for mobile Web and many native platforms are left with the important question of where to develop first. And it’s not an insignificant (or irrelevant) decision by any means.

Cost, reach, OS market share, desired functionality and who/where your users are: These will all continue to be important variables on the check list that helps you determine where to develop, and where to develop first.

It’s true that apps and mobile Web use are currently at parity. This is one of Forrester’s main premises and comScore data support it. And they will both grow and co-exist with smartphone penetration and mobile Web development tools like HTML5.

But I’d argue that the continued diversion in choice — as both mobile Web and native apps thrive — makes the platform decision facing any mobile publisher more relevant, not less.

This was a key topic at our ILM East show during our mobile sessions, and a report we released last year. Next week, we’ll release a Q&A with Tobias Dengel of WillowTree Apps that covers action items for anyone developing mobile products.

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