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Apps is the new Web: sowing the seeds for Web 3.0

[With the phenomenal success of mobile apps, the world of content is migrating from web 2.0 to apps as the new format for creating, packaging, discovering, paying and interacting with information. Andreas Constantinou analyses how apps are the evolution of Web 2.0 and where this phenomenon will lead us next]

VisionMobile - Apps is the new web

Billions of downloads. That’s how the success of software platforms is measured today. And while downloads is not a currency (it does not necessarily translate into revenues), it does create plenty of free buzz for software platforms. This is the world of apps.

But what is an app really? It’s not just a bunch of code and a fancy UI. Apps are the new channel for delivering services and experiences in mobile devices, taking over from the old world of web pages, texting, ringtones, wallpapers, MMS, Mobile TV – and some would argue voice, too. What’s interesting all these technologies were agreed over 1,000s of meetings and years of standardisation work taking place across (mostly) network operators in the 80s and 90s. In the case of apps, none of this had to be ‘standardised’, just adopted by a critical mass of software developers and in turn a critical mass of users. Today the billions of downloads are indeed that success metric of de-facto standards like iOS, Android, Blackberry, Symbian and Java – even if the vast majority of downloads take place on a small fraction (5%) of the devices sold.

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Despite the fragmented nature of the app economy, we ‘re reaching a milestone at the end of 2010: more than 500,000 mobile apps will become available for Apple, Android, BlackBerry, Java ME, BREW, Symbian and Windows Phone devices in total.

The number is only a fraction of the big picture; what apps have accomplished is an unprecedented speed of innovation and a diversity of use cases. Think about it; traditional mobile services cater mostly to communication needs. Apps cater to the entire spectrum of consumer needs: entertainment, travel, health, food, sports, finance, education.

Network operators have for years been trying to increase service ARPU, i.e. revenues stemming not from voice, texting or data traffic (which are consistently declining due to regulation and competition), but revenues stemming from additional services. Operators (aka carriers) have taken a technology centric-view which is that new revenue can come from the introduction of new technology – MMS, Mobile TV and 3G. Instead apps have taken the view that new revenue can come from addressing new consumer needs. And that’s how apps have allowed mobile to tap into a far more segments of the user spending pie.

Apps as the Web 3.0
Such is the allure of apps that every brand and every service provider is looking to create their own apps, whether as part of their brand identity, as a lead generator, a traffic driver or even a direct revenue source. Soon every enterprise will want their own set of apps, essentially creating a more intelligent mobile intranet, for example with apps for guiding you to your next meeting, for inventory tracking or on-the-spot videoconferencing. We can easily imagine a world where there will be an app for every brand, every service provider and every corporate intranet.

Apps have grown out of the roots of the web; in a sense an evolution of Web 2.0, adding not only new forms of interaction, but also new forms of discovery, monetisation and deeper user context, as summarised in the next table.

Apps Web
Discovery app store text results or URL
User context location, contacts explicit info only
Access mode online/offline online
Monetisation micropayments ads
UI design focus tailored experience compatibility
Interaction model touch, sensors, keys mouse, keys
Usability focus get things done explore
Economy download economy attention economy

Some aspects are worth highlighting:

Discovery is critical to the take-up of mobile apps. Webpages are discovered through Google search or a memorable address. The results you get back from Google take a lot of second-guessing as there is no information semantics describing a webpage or its relationship to other pages. On the contrary apps are published with semantic information as part of the submission process; genre, description, price and screenshots, while downloads, ratings and recommendations are added in-life. This makes discovering apps much more straightforward and intuitive.

User context. Apps have access to location and contacts (subject to certification/approval in some cases) whereas web pages only have access to explicitly provided user info.

Monetisation should also not be underestimated. The freemium business model and the ubiquity of freely available news on the internet arose from the lack of effective micro-payment mechanisms; it is too cumbersome to take out a credit card and pay 10 cents for reading a newspaper online and no payment provider has managed to simplify this (although Paypal and Google Checkout are trying). On the contrary, many app stores have included micro-payments (pay per download) from day one.

Apps are now going beyond mobile. Not only to tablets (see iPad and the tablets coming with Android 3.0) but also to the web (Chrome Web Store), the desktop (Mac App Store) and the billions of connected devices out there from TVs to cars.

Apps are also changing the rules of the game for Google. The search giant rose due to three factors: the open (crawlable) web, the lack of information semantics (necessitating a pagerank-type taxonomy) and the lack of a micro-payments (thereby increasing the demand for ads).

Now the world of apps is coming to threaten the foundations of Google’s success: the web is becoming segregated into walled information gardens (exemplified by Facebook and Apple’s App Store), apps carry information semantics (thereby greatly reducing the search space), and micro-payments are the primary revenue model for apps (thereby decreasing the need for ads as a monetisation medium).

Google is of course preparing for the world where apps become a mainstream means of accessing the world’s information by launching is own walled gardens (Orkut and Buzz), its own app store (Android Market and Chrome Web Store) and now integrating a payments technology (NFC) within Android handsets.

So where are we going next?

The web as the new app
Not to be left behind, web technologies (HTML, JavaScript and CSS) are being driven forward by the world’s web benefactors. Google actively invests in ‘web development’ with the aim to advance the state and adoption of web technologies so that it can supplant the otherwise proprietary technologies (Apple, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM and its own Android) which today power the world of apps. This is part of Google’s strategy to level the playing field where it doesn’t compete directly and Chrome is a big part of Google’s web development efforts, incl. WebKit and v8.

HTML5 standardisation (and initiatives like Webinos) are trying to make the web a primary app platform with offline access plus access into contacts and other user information. In parallel the WebKit engine is being consistently adopted in mobile handsets by just about every manufacturer with over 350M deployments up to the end of June 2010.

More than anything, web technologies are being adopted by mobile platform vendors looking to renew their platform and developer strategy. In order to be competitive, a platform today needs to have three elements:
– mature technology and tools
– hype/buzz
– an active developer community

While you can buy technology, buzz and developer communities are very expensive to build. Like a deus ex machina, web technologies come out of the box hype-ready and with an established developer community. As a result, Nokia, Palm (now HP) and RIM all chose web technologies in WRT, WebOS and WebWorks respectively, as the technology basis of their platform. I believe players who need to refresh their platforms (like Qualcomm’s BREW MP, Samsung and LG) would opt for web technologies.

Web technologies also allow mobile platform providers to tap into new developer segments (designers, scripters, back-end developers, CMS developers and more). More importantly, web technologies reduce the development costs for cross-domain development across mobile, tablets, desktop, car, and consumer electronics from toys to TVs.

Once web technologies are consistently adopted in 3-5 years we should see web move from today’s lowest common denominator to powering the next-generation of apps across connected devices, from toys to TVs and from web pages to apps – and the browsing (exploratory, lowest-common-denominator) experience moving to resemble an app (getting things done, immersive) experience. Perhaps this is the Web 3.0 we ‘ve all be waiting for.

The question is: are apps a ‘blip’ on the radar before the web takes over again? No – apps represent the evolution of creating, packaging, discovering, paying and interacting with information – and while today’s apps are based on mostly proprietary technologies (Apple, Android, BlackBerry, BREW, Symbian, Windows Phone) tomorrow’s apps will be mostly based on web technologies. As to the open web vs closed web silos debate (analysed eloquently by Wired magazine) history teaches us that closed silos are faster at innovating that the open web – and that the web governance will oscillate between the yin and yang for the years to come.

– Andreas
You should follow me on Twitter @andreascon

  • Hampus

    Great analysis Andreas!

  • Andreas,

    Great article. I've been contemplating about who's going to win this war – apps or the free web, and I am leaning towards apps a lot more.

    That said, apps that are considered web 3.0 (i.e, they access information on the "internet") could not be created without the web standards we consider web 2.0: HTML/JS, as they run just on top of them using standardized interfaces such as SOAP or REST.

    The missing part of apps for me is better discoverability – it's too wild out there and it is getting harder to find good stuff you really need.

  • Excellent article!

    Regarding discovery – while there indeed are those who search in app stores, much app discovery is already social today (e.g. "have you downloaded .. ?") and is becoming even more so. It's likely that the concept of app stores as popular front ends will disappear altogether, just as web portals once did (and maybe re-appeared, but I digress .. ).

    Shameless plug: http://mash-app.com is all about social app discovery.

  • Great article. This is the silent.revolution. We need 2 b aware n prepare our business n life 4 the fallout of this.

  • APPS are not "the web" because you can't generally link between apps. And it's hyperlinking that makes the web "the web". Before hyperlinking, we had lots of services and tools and applications and communityies, but we didn't have a "web".

    They're something else. I don't want to get into what they are, but what they are NOT is a "web". There's a lot of overlap with the web, and they can present parts of the web differently, but without references and links they're not serving the same purpose.

  • Peter,

    While your point is valid, I think that the way Android designed things around Intents makes something that can be viewed as links. Granted – they're not as generic and general as links, but they are the closest thing yet.

  • Huhster

    Apps ARE the new web.

    A bit of grammar goes along way for a professional writer!

  • Edwin

    Apps are like web 11.0 they're so awesome. Now I get to: manage versions, can't link to other apps, can't bookmark, code multiple versions, can't search (remember Google). It's like the 80's again only smaller!

  • Intosh


    LOL. That is my thinking as well.

    It seems we are going backward. Remember the days when the Web was relatively young? Pundits and industry stakeholders were all talking about how the web browser was going to be the only app you gonna need and that apps will be served from the Cloud to your web browser so that they are accessible to you from anywhere, on any device and that you no longer need to install and manage them, not to mention that it's gonna be much easier for the developers. Now, the industry takes a 180-degrees turn and it's called an innovation. LOL

  • Yves

    IMHO apps will never replace the web.

    The web is accessible from any internet-connected device.

    You can easily spend half an hour reading about a subject and open 20+ sites on that time. I do not se

  • Yves

    Sorry for posting prematurely!

    No no no!

    Apps will never replace the Web!

    Do I guess right that you are an iPhone user?

    The web is accessible from any internet-connected device, regardless of brand of the device, of opinion the app-store owner has of you and your app, and of the device and (mostly) location of the device

    The web would never be what is is today if it was controlled by one company or government (like apps are in the apple app store)

    The web could just become what it is because it was not controlled and grew freely

    Also: You realize that around 90% percent of people have windows on their PC since years, and still the web get's more popular and big at a crazy pace.

    If apps could replace the web, I would today read the news in my NYTimes.exe app, then open GMail.exe for reading mail and then open Facebook.exe to see what the buddies are doing. Na!

    In contrary, I believe that the advances of Web Development (HTML5 offline storage, canvas, CSS transitions, etc) the need for apps gets less in fact.

    Why do an app for one platform if you can make a webapp which does the same, for many more platforms?

    Have you seen what e.g. the guys of jquerymobile are doing (or any other mobile webapp framework)?

    You can actually operate websites as good as apps per touchscreen, if they were made for.

  • Yves

    Okay, I have to admit when I started to read your article I got upset and decided to reply. Prematurely. Sorry.

    In fact I agree completely with your final word "The web as the new app"!

  • Andreas,

    I disagree with one of your points:

    "…in 3-5 years we should see web move from today’s lowest common denominator to powering the next-generation of apps across connected devices…"

    Common denominator solutions never become universal, rather they end up as a niche.

    Java desktop platform tried this and failed. How many Windows, Mac or Linux application today are implemented in cross platform?

    I don't want my WP7 app to look the same as iOS. It's much more appealing to have a native platform UX, and in hyper competitive software world, the leading vendors will invest in a separate code base for each leading platform.

  • Apps are nothing more than Windows 3 programs.

    All this "app" terminology is about to make me sick. Mobile device applications are already extinct as they're being written. Just take a look at Blackberry OS 5 to OS 6 – nothing is backwards compatible.

    Websites are an ever changing, always working ecosystems. Pre-compiled applications are dinosaurs with no connections to each other. Tied to devices in which are already dieing a fast technology death and won't last more than a couple years if that.

    What does make sense is taking an existing Web 2.0 application and tieing that into as many sources as possible to maximize your market share – give them apps which connect to the "web app" through various APIs. Today it's all about SaaS and you can connect using any desktop app, mobile app, or web browser to still get your work, files or whatever you're doing.

    All these vendors need to make one standard if they want major developer backing. Right now the big 3 are all completely different. Give us a standard framework or at least language and we'll make one app that can work on everything. Oh wait – that's the web.

    Micropayments won't work for certain things. People simply won't pay. Not everything needs to be paid, freemium rules in a lot of places. So does totally free. If you provide the content the advertisers will provide the dollars.

    • Isaac

      "One app that will work on everything" wouldn't work very well at all, and here's why:

      An "app", to differentiate from a WIndows 3 program OR a website for example, is able to take advantage of embedded features on the device its running. Not every computer on the planet has location awareness, but every iPhone does. Not every computer on the planet has a microphone, camera, and touch interface, but every iPhone does.

      iPhone as a platform is admittedly more cohesive than competitors, but there is absolutely no question that, as a user who likes apps that do cool things, and a developer who likes to program devices to do cool things, it would be really dumb everything were written so that it could work on every device, or, as you suggest, to make everything a website.

  • Thx Andreas for this great article. I really love the comparison between apps and the web. That does explain a lot to me and makes a lot of sense. Especially the idea, that apps introduced new ways of capitalisation that didn´t work for the internet so far.

    But to be consistent we should be more clear on what we compare: the opposite of the app is not the web but one website. The comparison of the web should be the app store (or maybe some new kind of reference system as app stores are such a hazzle). So if apps are the new web then the question is how can apps fit and work together into a referential ecosystem? Will it be based on data? Or on a facebook-OS "like"-structure?

    Also, I would like to make a plea for the browser. Earlier this year I conducted some qualitative research in Germany where we analysed the iphone & app usage. We tracked the iphone usage of 8 trendsetters over two weeks time. They had about 60-120 apps installed. In these two weeks our probands used around 20 apps. Of these 20 17 were used 1-3 times and one 3 were used frequently. And among those 3 was the facebook app. Most trendsetters had media apps installed but didn´t use them because they spend most of their day in the browser, so the browser feels more natural.

  • Good article, Andreas!

    Many of the comments here get lost in the technology babble of our times. Technology superiority does not cause people to choose the web over apps (or visa-versa).

    Apps have one thing going for them. They are personal. You carry them around in your pocket. They are not a common good somewhere out there on a server for all to see. You can taken them out of your pocket and show them to people. Your unique collection of apps define you as a person. “We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious.”

    Once again, human kind is faced with the ever-returning question of what could be common and what should be private or personal.

    Apple has always been emphasizing the right of the individual to be different: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYecfV3ubP8

    Tim Berners-Lee is still working to make the web a common good: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/nov/22/

    As an eternal optimist, I believe we once again will find a good balance between what is common and what is private. Common standards and interfaces guarantees a fertile ground for innovation – our need to be different drives forward innovation and (for some reason) makes us happy.

  • @Steven Leggett = Agreed…

    Illya (CEO of Getjar) made a great comment recently: App Shmap.. all the consumer sees is an "icon" so.. App = Icon.

    As for the common dev. platform, indeed. We have long seen here in Japan, with all handsets Flash-enabled since 2004, that 3G speed with flat-rate data and full-blown http:// web.. that usage – like via ADSL – simply explodes.. 😎

  • Andreas,

    I came across this post: http://mobilephonedevelopment.com/archives/1159 by Simon Judge. I have the same opinion as he has – apps will stay with us for a long time, but there will be a trend of using web based standards within apps to make them easier to port.


  • Andreas,

    "Web as the new app".. Absolutely! History repeats itself… but till the mobile web can get "good enough" will have to do with apps


    Thx for the link, this makes perfect sense, this way we can finally (almost) move to "Write once, Run Anywhere"

  • ggg

    Are Apps the new Web? No, it seems that Apps are the new WAP: Closed, walled-garden, limited content, etc. WAP failed.

    • Chadwick

      WAPPS… I love it

  • Ciao Andreas,

    it's good to see someone getting it right about this Web vs Apps debate.

    This sentence, is the key:

    "apps represent the evolution of creating, packaging, discovering, paying and interacting with information – and while today’s apps are based on mostly proprietary technologies tomorrow’s apps will be mostly based on web technologies."


    I just want to comment on two minor things:

    "User context. Apps have access to location and contacts (subject to certification/approval in some cases) whereas web pages only have access to explicitly provided user info."

    – That's not properly true. Think about HTML5 and location info or device API, we are going in the direction of context access also for web-apps.

    "The freemium business model and the ubiquity of freely available news on the internet arose from the lack of effective micro-payment mechanisms;"

    – mmmm, not properly. It arises from the fact that information wants to be Free.

    PS: love the ggg comment.

  • Bob

    Apps were a necessity for the smart phones of 2009-10 and a bit of 2011.

    However, look at the mobile browsers (Opera/Mobile in particular, that can access the accelerometer and geo-data); look at Opera/Mini for feature phones.

    The mobile web is the future. Yes, we'll need some "apps" for really big stuff (like mini-sites), but, HTML.5, websockets, XMPP, etc. all render Apps an interim step.

    The "old web" via online access will be reduced, as more people spend time on mobile web; this causes problems as dollars/sterling/whatever shift, and we'll see some of the online world become a ghost town.

    Apps will reach, at best 50% of the mobile world, mobile web (WAP and HTML, with Opera heading for feature phones too) will reach nearly 100%.

    Bank on mobile web, not Apps, unless you are doing those $200,000 and up projects, but, under that? Head for the web.

  • Vaidy

    Great Article & we are firm believer in this.. We actually have a business around this (Not Fremium) & see customers slowing adopting to this concept, not only in Mobile but in the Web/Browser world as well..although they do not call it Web 3.0..

    On the Google comment, I agree this is a threat to Google but they are also adopting to this change via Gadgets & Stores..

    Thanks for writing about it Andreas..

  • Superb article.

  • Ethan

    What utter tosh. Apps are becoming nothing more than glorified bookmarks…. I suggest Andreas gets of his iPhone and into the real world

  • Olivier Rassemusse

    I think "natives" apps and web based apps (Web Run Time) on mobiles are going to live together for some time, eventually mixing. Not easy to create voice recognizer, or geo – augmented reality solution with WRT technologies as exemple.

    On Monetisation: In the "past, there was only micropayment on mobile. You know the kind of shameless micropayment system that take from you 60% of your sells right in operators pockets. Now on mobile, you have "unlimited payment" using credit card with one click payment in-app or out-app solutions available with a tiny bit of share. The same share you can find in e-commerce. That's making companies going to mobile market independant and free to develop new business models (iTunes is a fabulous example of that).

  • Yes, a great article!

    When discussing native apps vs. web I believe it is important to be precise about what "web" means. The web can mean so many things. I agree 100% with @andreascon that apps will be built using web technology. But building an app using web technology, does not qualify it as a part of the "web". Obviously the infrastructure and protocols of the web is important for transporting data, but it is still not a part of the web. ….yes, this tastes like a widget, doesn't it? Widget=App built on web tech. Further, we should not underestimate the power of the real, open, free, hyperlinked, social web as an appstore.

    Thats my tuppence…

  • PK

    Good article, but….

    Apps are only a replacement until mobile web is sorted out. Until now 80-90% of high-profile web sites do not have adequate mobile web presence.

    So, a hint to all developers: work on your mobile web site instead of pouring money into mobile apps.

  • Vaidy

    PK.. I have a slightly different view your comment. I see Mobile-Web & Apps as co-existing strategy. Apps are streamlined for a specific activity like check my bank-accounts, purchasing or airline check-in..i.e. more of a business function. Mobile-web can of-course do all of it, but its browsing and typically used for Information propagation. It is not oriented for a single-purpose like Apps…

  • Bhavna S

    Hi Andreas,
    Very crisp and poignant insights. A pleasure to read as it served as an affirmation of what I believed in myself, but could never put into words as effectively as you did. And why was it an affirmation, that's because my background as an Advertising strategist, I couldn't emphasis more on the mobile serving as another platform for effective communication and that it's not about selling products on this new platform to your audience, instead it's about using this (mobile) platform to understand the NEEDS of your audience and catering to them- even if it means selling an idea instead of a conventional product/ brand. And this theory under pins my first App called SARI, for the iOS platform. My detractors have dismissed my app idea perhaps because there is nothing tangible that I am selling. But I have stood my ground and it's due to be launched in the next few days on the App store.
    In fact if you have the time Andreas,I would be delighted if you could check out <a href="http://www.facebook.com/sariapp” target=”_blank”>www.facebook.com/sariapp and leave your comments behind.

    Once again well crafted blog with sparkling insights. You've got a fan in me now! 🙂


  • saisreenivasbattini

    I want to introduce new apps in the mobile but i hav little bit of knowledge and i want to work hard to my work.so can i know u r aknowledgement from ur side


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