Vibhu Norby has a detailed post on why his startup is pivoting from mobile first to web first. And ultimately it comes down to economics. This has been one of the big problems with the web versus native. In general, it’s been easier for developers to make money with native apps. That ease comes at a price; you’re locked in to a specific platform, and you’re at the mercy of the keepers of that platform. But all-in-all compared to the cheap, throw-ads-everywhere model that has driven the web economy for so long, it was a breath of fresh air. People were willing to give up 30% for access to a new, untapped, and profitable market.
That market still exists, but it isn’t quite the gold rush it used to be. What more people like Vibhu are realizing however, is that you don’t have to choose between throwing a hail-mary on an app store and cheapening your user experience with ads. You can focus on building a great web experience and adding value, charging for that value, and then using mobile as an added touch point to your service. And it turns out that the early process of getting and retaining users is quite a bit less painful on the web.
You have an entirely different onboarding story on the web. You can test easily, cheaply, and fast enough to make a difference on the web. You can fix a critical bug that crashes your app on load 15 minutes after discovery (See Circa). You can show 10 different landing pages and decide in real-time which one is working the best for a particular user. You can also close a viral loop: A user can click an email and immediately be using your app with you. You can’t put parameters on a download link and people don’t download apps from their computer to their phone. Without the barrier of a download + opening the app to try your product, you can prove value to the user immediately upon their first impression, as is with Google. In addition, the experience of signing up for a service is superior in every way. Typing is easier. Sign-up with OAuth is faster. Tab to the next field. Provide marketing alongside sign-up as encouragement. Auto-fill information is a feature in every browser. The open eco-system of the web and 20 years of innovation has solved many of the most difficult parts of onboarding. With mobile, that kind of innovation is lagging significantly behind because we create apps at the leisure of two companies, neither of which have a great incentive to help free app makers succeed.
As a personal example, I have a long Facebook password with lots of random characters. Nothing annoys me more than trying to sign up for anything with Facebook on a mobile app because my password is hard to type, it’s not saved, and I can’t use the key combination I’m familiar with on the desktop. That’s not a good user experience.
There is so much that’s inherently good about the web, as Christian Heilmann eloquently points out, that it’s a shame to think of it last or as a throwaway just because mobile is the new hotness. Since the web has gotten very good at supporting rapid testing and process for getting users on board why not leverage that and then use mobile as just another way for customers to access your web-centric content/services?
Longer term I continue to hope that the good practices from the web will bubble up on mobile devices. From both a core API/feature standpoint and from a user experience standpoint. Once that happens it will become a much easier sell to content creators and developers to go all in with the web and build great web experiences on mobile instead of building native apps that tie back to the web.Tweet