In the board rooms and staff offices of many a publishing concern there is an ongoing debate here in the Age of the Tablet. Should we create an App, or can we just rely on the web to disseminate, and hopefully monetize content? It is a worthwhile debate to have because, as we all know, things are in a great state of change and there is no clear path to success.
On the one hand, many companies have rushed to create an App. Some have done so with success but some have not. I hear a lot of commentary that says that some of these so far unsuccessful ventures resemble the days of CD packaged content and really don’t take advantage of the user experience on Tablets or smartphones. By and large I’d say that commentary is accurate as far as it goes. Some companies (notably the Financial Times) have said no to Apps and instead are creating web apps for their content. Obviously that approach has some advantages in that web apps aren’t tied to a specific App that has to be created for different platforms. Nor do those Apps have to be maintained and upgraded. While each approach has its advantages and disadvantages at the core, the content creator has to do more than re-package wire stories to keep the customer’s interest and hopefully turn that into some sort of ongoing relationship. To make this work with a web only approach requires that the content producer create some sort of payment system, but the same has to be done with an App approach.
Let’s keep in mind that when Apple launched its first iPhone there were no stand alone Apps (beyond what Apple packaged itself) and the push was for Web Apps. But that changed. Now any new device (like the upcoming HP TouchPad) that doesn’t have an App catalog with impressive numbers is immediately subject to criticism for not having lots of Apps to choose from. At the moment, I think many consumers would be hard pressed to distinguish between a stand alone App or a Web App on one of these mobile screens. In the grand scheme of things, I think that’s the intent. But as long as the quantity of available Apps is viewed as such a big marketing component, new entries will have to counteract that. Those efforts take away from the fact that users can still use the web browser to access most content and enjoy it without an App.
I think we’re a long way from seeing how this all plays out. Apps certainly aren’t going to go away, nor is the web. As content producers try to figure out this brave new world and how they can actually thrive (or survive) in it, we’ll see many fits and starts. If I had to guess, I would say that we’ll end up with some sort of ongoing hybrid between the two. What are your thoughts?