Death of the app? How the web is taking charge once more

Apps dominate traffic

That's the argument against them, but the fact remains that some apps are doing well – very, very well. "If you look at mobile traffic the vast majority of it is done via apps," says Dyer. "Facebook is absolutely crushing it, its traffic is insane, and what's more, it plans to launch more standalone applications. There are seven online properties that have over a billion users; Google owns four of them and delivery via the app channel continues to grow."

One of the areas where apps make far more sense than websites is messaging. "Messaging still seems to be the major growth area," says Bennet, who think that the likes of Facebook, Apple, Google and Microsoft are desperate to crack emerging markets. "It will be interesting to see if other small and independent developers can take advantage of this 'space race' like WhatsApp did," he says.

Ah yes, WhatsApp, the app that proves that the global obsession with apps is alive and well. "The rise of messaging apps seems to know no limits at the moment," says Dyer. "If you want to know why Facebook valued WhatsApp at US$19 billion then look no further than its 500 million active users – it hit that milestone last month." WhatsApp users are sharing over 700 million photos and 100 million videos each day. "The most impressive thing is it has only just got started," adds Dyer.

It also depends on the service being offered; if you're constantly accessing a service, an app is unbeatable for convenience. "An app is only successful if the company itself already has repeat customers," says Healy, stating that it's the Facebook and Twitter apps' timesaving that makes them smash hits.

Apps push integration

Another area where apps trump mobile websites is when integration with a device is all-important. "They're perfect when tight integration with phones' built-in functionality is important," says Matthew Graham, Software Engineer and Technical Consultant at app developer Apadmi. "For example, a VoIP app could not be implemented via a mobile website."

The boom in photography and photo editing apps are all about a smartphone's built-in camera, SoundHound and Shazam use the microphone, and stargazing apps like Sky Safari and StarWalk use a phone's built-in GPS sensor to create a service that a website just can't match. "There are unique benefits to developing dedicated apps if you want to make use of smartphone functionality like the camera, GPS or accelerometer for example, which websites can't access," says Van Aurich.


StarWalk proves that apps can be unique in what they offer

Crucially, they all of these work offline. "A mobile website will provide nothing when there is no data connection whereas an app can be written to show cached information to the user, while it waits for the latest data to load," says Graham.

Games on the throne

However, it's gaming that has perhaps the tightest grip on the concept if the app, claiming a whopping 32% of app usage time (social networking accounts for 28%). "Browser-based mobile games simply are nowhere near the popularity of regular apps and I believe they never will be," says Rich Albon, Co-Director of Two Creature Studios. "With apps, designers can develop games in a beautiful, 3D environment, whereas most web-app games tend to be more restricted to a 2D format due to browser limitations."

We may be far from the end of apps, but it's clear that the landscape has changed from 'apps are good' to 'do I need another app?'. "The initial excitement surrounding 'having an app' has now passed and it's now about taking a more strategic approach," says Mason. "We wouldn't necessarily say that HTML5 websites are overtaking apps, more that responsive websites are becoming commonplace."

Before anyone gets carried away and predicts the 'death of the app', they would be wise to remember something. It may be ubiquitous and pre-installed on every smartphone, but it's worth considering what that Chrome or Safari browser on your home screen actually is. It's just an app.

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and He also edits two of his own websites, and that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),