Apps are still handily winning the battle against the mobile Web, but the emergence of HTML5 promises to level the playing field. That's the overall view of a group of mobile experts who convened at OMMA Global Tuesday to address the ongoing question of whether marketers and media companies should stake their claim in mobile with applications or via the Web.
There is little question that apps still hold the high ground among smartphone users, the most avid mobile media audience. David Gill, vice president, mobile media and marketing for the Nielsen Co., pointed to recent research it released showing people are spending about 60% of their time on apps because the mobile Web experience is still often lacking.
"We're still very focused on the app world," said James Smith, chief revenue officer of social movie site Flixster. He explained that the company needs to focus on the devices and media options that people are using, while mobile Web browsers still are not sophisticated enough to match the richness of content that apps offer.
Likewise, Brian Klais, founder and president of Pure Oxygen Labs, an m-commerce consultancy, agreed the mobile Web is still more "agony" than "ecstasy" because most sites aren't optimized for handheld devices. "You don't actually get a mobile page, you get a desktop page," he said. "The smartphone is a shortcut, and when brands and sites don't optimize for that, it's basically a conversion killer."
Apps are also where mobile users go to complete transactions on phones.
If the mobile Web at present is a marketing backwater, the growing adoption of HTML5 as the primary programming language for mobile development is poised to alter the balance of power with apps.
He also pointed out that the top 50 apps in the Android Market account for 60% of usage, reiterating how critical it is for publishers to land in that top group of titles in Android or the App Store. HTML5 could eventually help shake up the winner-take-all economics of mobile app stores.
Thom Kennon, SVP, director of strategy, Y&R, noted that major publishers such as Meredith and Hearst are embracing HTML5 for their mobile initiatives. And fellow panelist Ashmeed Ali, who leads mobile research for Yahoo, attested to the Web portal's shift to the latest version of HTML for mobile sites and apps.
Furthermore, OMMA keynote speaker Denise Warren, SVP and chief advertising officer for The New York Times Media Group, told the audience the company was making "a big bet" on HTML5 by using it to build its core mobile properties.
The attraction for publishers is that HTML5 breaks down the barriers between apps and the mobile Web and reduces the difficulty of having to create different versions of mobile properties across different devices and operating systems.
But it won't necessarily be a technical panacea. Yahoo's Ali pointed out that HTML5 provides a baseline for development, but will still require publishers and brands to optimize for Android, the iPhone and other smartphone platforms.
Ali previewed forthcoming research from Yahoo indicating that most smartphone users have 34 apps on average on their mobile device. Of those, only four are used on a daily basis. People may not be enamored of the mobile Web, but apps have their problems, too. Yahoo found that 55% of apps aren't meeting user expectations, and 43% felt their apps weren't properly organized on their phone, making it difficult to find any particular title.