Apps vs Websites

On your phone/tablet, which do you prefer -- apps or websites?

Do you look up stuff more frequently in apps or in websites, in your regular daily use?

Do you have 30 apps installed, or 30 websites bookmarked, or both?

Do you have more apps that you use every day, or more websites that you visit every day?

Do you access your email from in a browser (like my wife) or using your device's native email client (like me)?

Do you ever install apps that are just clones or skins or wrappers around websites?


[caveat: this post is my own personal rant -- I don't have statistics or user studies to back me up]


The potential of apps

I'm pretty excited about the potential of apps, but too often disappointed in practice...

  • Apps can give a much better "offline" experience - they can cache your To-Do list locally and sync when get online, or save a Kindle book locally to read when offline. (but it seems all to rare for apps to do this. Websites can apparently work in offline mode but I haven't yet seen it in practice).
  • Apps can give a much better "preload" experience - they can anticipate what link you're going to click, and download it in advance. (but I don't know ANY apps that do this.)
  • Apps can have an extraordinarily good UI, like OneNote on SurfacePro using pen input, or Bing Maps for pinching and dragging. (I don't count animations or smooth swipes or slick pictures as "extraordinarily good UIs"...)
  • Apps can do games, and other things that inherently can't be done online, like alarm clocks or downloaded podcasts.

In the end I'm too often stuck with bads apps for bad reasons:

  • Apps can workaround websites that need lots of interaction but have bad phone UIs for it. At the moment I'm suffering most from Nest and BabyConnect.


The familiar uniformity of websites

If an app doesn't excel in the above areas, then the inherent advantages of websites start to show through...

  • Websites let me "open-in-new-tab" , which is a BRILLIANT experience for preloading the website (so it's ready instantly when I want to read it), and also a great experience for queueing up the things I want to read.
  • Websites have a uniform "click links and open in new tab" experience across ALL websites. So I can open websites for my daily online comics, BBC news, slashdot, forums, all from my home page with the same gesture. I can't launch ten apps at once to have them all download data simultaneously because the UI and OS doesn't allow it.
  • Websites are usually a lot more uniform between phone/tablet and desktop. I can go from one to another without learning new layouts or interactions. I don't need to worry about how to sync local app data between devices.
  • Websites don't invade my privacy. App permissions are so coarse-grained, and apps are always so demanding of permissions, that I rarely trust them. At least with websites I can be more sure what personal data they're getting.
  • Website links are less clutter than apps. Every morning I read five webcomics and four regular columns. I could install nine apps to do this, or I could just have nine bookmarks. The bookmarks are tidier.
  • Website browsing isn't walled-off. When I'm reading BBC News, for instance, I'll normally want to dive deep with Bing searches or Wikipedia or just following external links. There's no point having BBC News as an app if I'm just going to leave it so frequently. And please don't have an in-app browser.



My personal message to all you app-developers -- if your app doesn't shine in the "green" categories above -- if it doesn't have a good offline experience or doesn't have an extraordinary UI -- please rethink how you can make it better!

And if you're shovelling out an app because your website works badly on a mobile device -- that's not the best way to delight your users!