Native Mobile Apps vs. Web Mobile Apps is Not a Feature War

While reading my much-loved Flipboard today, I came across an article in the Wired section from Webmonkey called How Do Native Apps and Web Apps Compare? Having worked in both mobile native and web apps, this is a topic very near and dear to my heart. It’s slightly biased towards the mobile web, but the comments in the article keep the overall content as a fair comparison. Definitely worth a read.

Out of the over 15 feature vs feature comparisons, one point stuck out to me in particular:

The Issue Native Web
Can I sell it? Charge whatever you want. Most app distributors take a slice, up to 30% Advertising is tolerated, subscriptions and paywalls less so. No distribution costs beyond server fees

Can you name even 1 mobile web app that makes any sort of money with a subscription or paywall? I can’t think of any, but I’m willing to admit that there’s probably one out there somewhere. Compare that to thousands inside the iTunes app store that make very very good money – even small-time indy developers. If you want to charge for your app, there’s currently one option: native.

But native apps aren’t winning the war because they have the best user experience (they do), but because they are easy to buy, easy to install, and easy to update. The user gets a fantastic purchase experience, and most importantly, the developer gets paid per download. All of this works because Apple already has the user’s credit card info, and it’s literally a 1 click install from iTunes or the iPhone. What’s more, the purchase experience is also the exact same for every application. The combination of simplicity for purchase + consistency of purchase + trusted seller means much much higher trust and repeat rate from the user.

Contrast this with the web. Every web app developer has to solve the “how do we process payments” problem. They have to create their own unique purchase workflow. And most importantly, they have to independently gain the trust of the user before the purchase. I love Doodle Jump as much as the next guy, but does anything think that they’d fill out a 2 page credit card form on an indy developer website for a $0.99 app that runs in the browser? It wouldn’t be 3 million people, I promise you that much.

Users don’t have a simple, consistent, and trustworthy way to purchase mobile web apps. Similarly, developers don’t have a simple, trustworthy, unified market to sell their apps in. There is way too much friction for developers to go to market, and way too much friction for users to purchase from the market.

All features being equal, for the mobile web to ever be a serious contender, the problem of “how do I as a developer make money?” and “how do I as a consumer trust this developer w/ my $$ info” needs to be solved.

If my name was, I know what I’d be working on right about now. Amazon already has payment info for nearly 70 million users compared to the 40 million iPhones in the market, and they’re in a fantastic place to host the mobile web app marketplace. It’s trusted, it’s simple, and it sells just about everything except mobile apps. It’s a pefect fit.

Once this problem is solved, and it will eventually be solved, only then will mobile web apps be able to compete with their native counterparts.

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