Will apps be relevant in the future? It depends on who you ask. Some say apps are just a bridge back to the mobile Web, especially as tablets make mobile Web browsing more convenient. Speakers at the Digiday:Mobile conference in New York on Monday debated which platforms are relevant to publishers.
"Everything old is new again," said Erica Chriss, vice president of strategy and business development at the mobile advertising network Greystripe. She suggested the mobile Web has surpassed its "WAP is crap" reputation — and that publishers can make money by serving rich ads in the mobile-based browser, rather than just apps.
The iPad's ease of browsing has made apps a lot less relevant, said Christine Cook, senior vice president of digital advertising sales at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. “I think we need to be careful about putting all the eggs in the app basket from a publisher's perspective,” she said.
Martha Stewart Living launched an iPhone app in February, featuring recipes and the ability to create a shopping list, but they've also had success using SMS to send recipes. While SMS isn't “super sexy,” Cook said they've seen a “huge user response.”
Cook argued that apps can be expensive to deliver without necessarily getting much continued usage from consumers. For instance, charging $3 for an app one time might not be a sustainable business model. “I would imagine you want an ongoing relationship,” she said.
Other gripes against apps that came up included discoverability and sharability.
“When you go to an app store, it can be a little overwhelming,” said Evan Neufeld, vice president of marketing at Ground Truth, a mobile metrics firm. “We need to continue to work on this.”
App publishers have to spend at least as much time marketing an app as they do developing it, said Katie Juhl, manager at National Geographic Mobile. Juhl stressed that publishers “absolutely have to have a mobile website.” But apps are still important, especially for content such as magazines and books, she said.
Critics of the mobile Web say it's unreliable. “You're always going to be able to do much more on a handset than you can on the mobile Web,” said Patrick Mork, chief marketing officer of GetJar, an app marketplace.
If nothing else, a mobile Web presence should exist just to promote an app, said Bryson Meunier, associate director of Resolution Media, a digital marketing agency. “If you're not using it as another way even to promote your app, you're really missing the boat.”
Ground Truth's Neufeld said there's room for all of the different mobile delivery methods. “Browsing, apps and SMS will define the mix,” he said. “They each have different strengths and weaknesses.”