Link: Transitioning To a Mobile Centric World (Bill Gurley)

This article argues that the verdict is in, and users want apps, not mobile web sites.  My friend and colleague Michael Roberts (who, I suspect, is neutral in the debate) shared this link on Google+, and – as if to prove Mr Gurley’s thesis – I read his posting in the Android G+ app, not the mobile site. 

Here is the comment I left:

Interesting piece – thanks, Michael . He’s absolutely right that people prefer apps to the browser for common tasks, but I don’t think he’s got the whole story.  For example, like most people, I currently read G+, Facebook, and Twitter in the dedicated mobile apps rather than in the browser.  However, a large plurality (if not majority) of interesting posts to those services are actually links back out into the web, so the result of of reading a tweet is generally opening not a dedicated app, but a web site.

Case in point – we’re both reacting to a pro-app/anti-browser article, but the only reason we know about it is that you were able to share a web link in your G+ post.  If Mr. Gurley had created a “GurleyPosts” app for his thoughts, then (a) most people probably wouldn’t have it installed, and (b) you wouldn’t have been able to pass a link from iOS that I could use to read it on Android.

In other words, for something I do a lot (read Facebook, check the weather, play a game, get driving directions) I will tend to use an app.  But I won’t install a dedicated app just to read an article from a magazine or newspaper, and even when I am using an app, I need a link if I’m going to share it with anyone else.

So in 2013 for mobile, apps are for the tall head of any user’s activities, and the browser is for the long tail.  Of course, every startup thinks it’s going to be the next Facebook (at least in terms of its importance to the people who use it), but few of them end up there, so the way people are going to find them is by following links from FB, Twitter, Google+, emails, chats, etc.  I wouldn’t give up on that mobile web site quite yet.

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3 Responses to Link: Transitioning To a Mobile Centric World (Bill Gurley)

  1. dpawson says:

    You make it sound like a rock and a hard place David? Very little wiggle room to keep you happy? Or perhaps like my daily paper, an app, or access via web pages?

    • Thanks for the comment, Dave. The newspaper is a good example: reading it is a high-frequency activity (tall head) when it’s your local paper, and a low-frequency/dispersed (long tail) activity when it’s someone else’s local paper. I’d suggest that in that case, an app is a nice-to-have, but web site (preferably mobile-friendly) remains a need-to-have; otherwise, people can’t share links to your stories and let others discover your paper, and in 2013, reading the news has become a highly-social activity.

      I’ll also go off topic from Dave’s comment, and rant about the severely-broken practice of using separate URLs for mobile and desktop (e.g. vs If I share the link from my phone, someone reading the article on a laptop at work doesn’t want to be stuck with the mobile UI on a huge screen, and if that person shares the link from work, I don’t want to be stuck with a tiny postage stamp of the 3-column desktop site on my phone. Newspapers: just don’t do that, ever, if you give a sh*t about attracting readers.

      • dpawson says:

        ” otherwise, people can’t share links to your stories and let others discover your paper, and in 2013, reading the news has become a highly-social activity.”
        London Times. Has an iPad app. Available on line BUT… If I think X would be interested, AFAIK they won’t be able to access the item (behind a paywall). I think the NYT has got round this somehow and I know the Times (Ldn) are asking if viewers want this (duh!).

        Bottom line we want access to, and to be able to share, information. Paywalls et al are just a nuisance.

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