Addressing the App Gap: Apps vs. Mobile Web

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Craig Smith  |  Founder & CEO

Last month, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released a study which blurred the lines and consensus between how mobile users are accessing content through tablets and phones. Titled “Apps and Mobile Web: Understanding the Two Sides of the Mobile Coin“, the research divided mobile use into two modes: the use of mobile applications (apps), and mobile Web browsing. Conducted in December 2014, the study surveyed over 2,000 U.S. adults to determine how they find and share websites and apps on their smartphones. However, the data that was discovered is rather puzzling.

According to respondents of a comScore survey only three months prior, an overwhelming majority (88%) of total time spent using mobile is dedicated to apps. That’s the kind of rigid data marketers and media agencies love to hear – if only 12% of time spent on smartphones is dedicated to browsing the Web, it must pay off to promote your brand and products through mobile applications. However, this seemingly straightforward statistic defies IAB’s new findings: that only 18% of users perceive their time to be slanted heavily toward apps. IAB calls this conundrum the “App Gap”.

How does one explain the jarring difference in these two results? Here are some of the possible explanations IAB came up with in their report:

  1. Because people generally opt for convenience in order to accomplish a given task, sometimes they will use an app and sometimes they will use the web. In fact, of those who were inclined to use apps more often, over half responded that their reasoning was due to the fact that mobile apps are more convenient and easier to use. Respondents were simply being pragmatic in answering.
  2. User preference seems linked to the categories the mobile device is being used for; social media, games and banking more frequently call for apps, while government and automotive content is typically accessed through a browser.
  3. Peoples’ perception of how they spend their time simply doesn’t add up to the way in which they delegated their mobile minutes in the survey.
  4. As many apps now days include browser capabilities, users often browse mobile websites while in non-browser apps.

There is no cut and dry answer to whether an app or responsive design provides a better means to locate and cultivate mobile customers on a general scale. However, there were a few additional findings that might help marketers to choose one as their priority:

  • Shopping – Those with HH incomes over $100K are more likely than those with HH income of less than $50k to prefer websites (36% vs. 24%, respectively)
  • News – Those with HH incomes over $100K are more likely to prefer websites than those with HH income of less than $75k (32% vs. 20%, respectively)
  • Search – Non-parents of kids under 18 show a stronger preference for mobile web (46%)
  • Men are more likely than women to prefer mobile websites (29% versus 21%)
  • Those with incomes over $100K are more likely to prefer mobile websites than those with HH income of less than $100K (51% vs. 38% respectively)
  • Ease and convenience help to dictate a preference for both apps AND mobile web browsing – to each his own!

In their survey, IAB also found that consumers value apps for webpage discovery. In fact, search and shared links from apps (primarily via social media) were the most commonly cited ways mobile internet users find websites they visit on their smartphones. And when it comes to sharing what they like with others? Users prefer email, social media and word of mouth. IAB suggests that marketers follow the lead of mobile consumers, and define a strategy which utilizes both modes in order to achieve a greater conversion rate and user experience.

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