The debate between the Web vs. Apps, between HTML5 vs. Native applications, has long been marked by half-truths, spin, and misinformation.This week the supposed conflict took another false turn. The app analytics company Flurry put out a press release that alleges that “Mobile Apps [have] Put the Web in Their Rear-view Mirror.”
This Flurry report is getting a lot of play around the blogosphere. So we decided to look more closely. And it turns out the Flurry methodology here is quite dubious. Flurry compared ComScore panel data which represents the USA population overall (a population that includes the 60% of Americans who do not yet have a smartphone at all) to the users in their own Flurry data set. All of whom by definition use apps, or Flurry can’t see them.
Statistics 101. All the light or non-smartphone users in the ComScore data drag down the web per user minutes average. Comparing that to Flurry’s app devotee population is just sleight of hand from there. It’s comparing apples and oranges. It’s like conducting a survey at a comic book convention and announcing that time spent on comic book reading has passed all other books combined… It’s rigged.
Moreover, comparing across totally different data sets down to the precision of minutes is quite “fast & loose” with statistics.
If you look at a rigorous single data set like ComScore MobiLens, for instance, for January to March 2011, 37% of mobile subscribers in the US used Apps, and 39% used a mobile browser. This excludes native games. Browsers are still more universal. And the MobiLens panel shows that 80% of App users also use the mobile web. Both are growing.
On the larger point in this overbeaten debate between Web vs. Apps, native games are a very special use case. Games are the most lucrative digital segment right now, and it makes sense that fast-response games can’t work well in the browser given the state of mobile overloaded networks. Plus, game developers know that using native SDKs allows seamless in-game purchases on iOS in particular, and that means big monetization advantages. And a lot of the minutes in Game Apps that Flurry is citing, moreover, are coming from iPod Touch or iPad users who don’t have a wireless plan, and once they leave their home wifi for the school bus, or the restaurant or a waiting room or an aeroplane, they turn to games for entertainment, and play offline. But if you leave the games use case, those advantages are less applicable.
Once you go beyond games, which Flurry’s data says is 47% of all App minutes, then the Web is winning by a mile. For blogs, sharing links on twitter and facebook, news, video, sports, adult content, entertainment content, and more categories where fresh daily content is being published, nothing beats the ease and power of browsers to reach a cross-device audience on desktop, mobile, and tablet. You can’t even share a link into a Native App, only out, and only to a URL. Apps need the web if they link out, or share socially.
A few commentators have tried to sensationalize this study, and in a somewhat misleading way. Some commentators have said the Flurry stats mean that “apps are winning over html5.” Yet Flurry’s definition of Apps can include html5-written, browser-based Apps, like the ones that Facebook’s web-based Project Spartan would merchandise. So App growth does not mean a zero-sum loss for html5.
I have moderated several panels in the last year on html5 vs native apps, and on the last panel, both CNN digital and Condenast Digital admitted that the page views they get on their mobile web site is an order of magnitude more than the page views on their apps (in part because of the feature phone traffic). That’s the reality today outside of the gamer world.
We at Skyfire are one of the companies that use Flurry Analytics, and we respect their app tracking platform. We actually expect better from them on this, but understand why it’s in Flurry’s interest given their emerging App ad network to promote this story. Ironically, given that Flurry includes Skyfire in its “Communication App” statistics, and given that Skyfire has been downloaded by over 7.5 million users, some of those “app” minutes in their stats are from the Skyfire App… which is a browser!
Long story short, both the web and Apps are here to stay, and both will grow as mobile grows.
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