Apps vs the web experience

webvsapps - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

“There’s an app for that” is Apple’s marketing term for the app store- and it’s ridiculous how accurate that term is becoming. We’re getting to the point where we almost don’t need web browser, because everyone and their grandmother has an app out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a newspaper, comic, forum, webshop or whatever it is- they probably have an app on at least one platform, probably several. Is there a point to all of this, or could we have gotten by with the web interfaces?

This is of course another one of those “it depends” situations. Some apps are great and don’t leave you wanting anything else from the web interface, while other apps leave a lot to be desired. WordPress, for example, is a great app for reading comments- but it’s impossible to publish anything on it with any sort of control over what you’re doing. The same goes for forums, since most of them use software that is universal for the platform they’re running on and aren’t optimized for each site like the web version is- which means you can easily get lost.

Other apps have more success with the whole “appilizing”-process. IMDB is a great app for the iPad, and in my opinion much easier to use than the web version because it utilizes scrolling lists and different information for portrait/landscape quite well- it basically fits everything into a smaller, more optimized space than the web page does. Amazon Windowshop is also a better experience than the web version of Amazon in my opinion, but then again I never liked how Amazon does things with categories etc.

What makes these apps better on thetablet for me is that they are optimized for it, and uses some features that are hard or impossible to duplicate online- such as landscape/portrait detection. You also don’t have to worry about zooming since the apps are optimized for the resolution- which is a big bonus. While most websites can be used on 1024 pixel wide screens without problem, you sometimes have to pan around if you want to view everything without having it scaled down- and that is especially true for devices with lower resolution.

One of the most important feature of an app vs the web version is however finger optimization. Granted there are web apps that are finger optimized (large controls), but it’s still not the same. Speed is one thing, as most web apps don’t cache any content and so if you click on a button (can be an email, another site tab, etc) it has to load that “site”- which is limited both by the speed of the network connection but also the whole process of actually loading a web page (which involves reading HTML/CSS/PHP files etc). With apps you simply load the content- and the app is already there with all the information about how the content is displayed. When using the web on the other hand, you load all the data every time you click something- if you move from one page to the other on a normal web page, the browser has no way of knowing that 90% of the data is the same as it was 2 seconds ago, so it loads it all again. This makes the web versions slower, especially on slow networks.

Apps also have the advantage of being able to remember info without relying on cookies and whatnot. I hate logging into everything, and no matter how many times you tell a web page to remember your info that will expire at some point. App data is another thing, and you simply don’t have the same capabilities of caching and storing data with a web app. Zinio (the magazine reader) is one example: they have a web reader (which I doubt works on iOS) but that is very resource intensive and it fetches data off the net. You can’t download the magazine at home and then sit on a bus with no Internet connection and read something. On the app version however you can, and it’s actually faster and smoother to use than the computer (not web) version of the reader as well because everything is optimized.

Games is another example of optimized apps: good luck getting a tablet to play advanced 3D games like you can find on most tablet platforms in a browser. Google Earth is the same thing, and there’s no way you could do what it does in a browser.The web is a jack of all trades, master of none type of thing, and sometimes you need to be a master to do anything at all.

Despite all of this though, web apps also have a few advantages. For one, you don’t have to deal with Apple’s (or anyone else’s) whacky restrictions on everything. You don’t have to share revenue, but then again you can’t charge for the apps (but you can charge for subscriptions etc). A web version is also universal, so no need to make different apps for each OS. With HTML5 the web is becoming a powerful platform and if you have a site optimized for tablets then chances are it will work as well on iOS as Android or WebOS. You can also check the site from anywhere, not just your own tablet (or computer).

In the end I personally prefer apps, simply because my iPad is a personal device that I always have with me and no one else uses, so I might as well have “static” apps there instead of relying on fetching everything from the net. I also don’t use other platforms, so the universal support that the web gives me isn’t something I need- though that is sure to be different for other people, especially developers. Some of the apps I use regularly are apps that I never really used the web version of, because I found the site to be unintuitive and annoying to use.

It’s difficult to predict if this “there’s an app for that” system is going to continue or if developers will start to rely more on HTML5. I don’t think the web will ever really replace apps, but I’d like to see services that I don’t use all that often (Facebook, IMDB, etc) to focus more on web optimization- if you have one app for each site you normally visit online, your tablet will end up being VERY cluttered.

I’m interested to see what you all think about this; do you prefer apps, or the web, or a little of both?

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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