Feature Story

Mobile internet: Will apps eventually kill the website?

by Blake Snow

mobile internet apps kill the website

Apps vs. the website: might we have traded convenience for segregated knowledge?

2011 became the year that the web was divided among traditional websites and increasingly popular phone "apps."Five years ago in a story for Fox News, I reported that "the Internet had split in half." Rather than being a commonplace area that anyone could freely access the same information and content, 2011 became the year that the web was divided among traditional websites and increasingly popular phone "apps."

This summer, another milestone was reached: More than half of all Americans access the internet with an app now, according to ComScore. Only 41% use the open web, either with a keyboarded computer (32%), mobile web browser (7%), or tablet browser (2%). The rest click on a little square icon that is closed from the rest of the web.

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Obviously, much of the information on a website and corresponding app are the same and updated together. But an increasing amount of time, content, capabilities, and resources are being spent on app-only development because that's where most of the investment lies today.

Could that be a problem? Might we have traded convenience for segregated knowledge?

The Wall Street Journal says yes, more specifically that technology's open range is losing out to walled gardens. "Today, as apps take over, the Web's architects are abandoning it," asserts Christopher Mims. "Google's newest experiment in email nirvana, called Inbox, is available for both Android and Apple's iOS, but on the Web it doesn't work in any browser except Chrome."

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Could that be a problem? Might we have traded convenience for segregated knowledge?New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo doesn't deny that apps are eating the web, but he welcomes the performance gains. "If you switch from an app like Facebook or Instagram to the overcrowded, overstuffed, slow-loading web, you are bound to see a carnival of pop-ups, interstitials, and scammy come-ons daring you to click. Is it any wonder that this place is dying?"

Other pundits suggest that apps are complimentary editions of the web, not necessarily a replacement, substitute, or new instance of it. "Apps and websites are peers, not competitors," writes respected commentator John Gruber. "We should think of the Web as anything transmitted using HTTP and HTTPS. They're all just clients to the same services."

Similarly, Will Oremus for Slate believes that the death of the web and any consequences have been greatly exaggerated in an effort to sell headlines. "The Web isn't dying," he says. "Rather, the way we experience it is changing (for the better)."

Right now, the general consensus seems to be that apps will not kill web browsers, at least not the in the foreseeable future. But undeniably there will be casualties, if not cultural ones than at least free-market ones.

"Will mobile and tablet apps kill websites? A few, certainly," responds developer Jeff Atwood. "But only the websites stupid enough to let them."


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