In the early days of the desktop computing, software delivery was a matter of going to a store and buying a box. Subsequently, you then went home and manually inserted install disks into a computer. It was, in retrospect, a real pain in the neck. Accordingly, for most people, the software that was loaded on the PC they bought was basically what they only used for the life of the machine. Adding new software to your home PC was an event.
What’s more, finding out what to buy and where to buy it was tedious – if you were lucky and knew someone really into computers, you’d get the scoop on some super useful software worth the effort to jump in a car, drive to the store, purchase, jump back into your car, get home and install it. A few hours later (assuming the store had the box you were looking for), you’d be up and running.
The Web changed this state of software stagnancy for the typical computer user – now interesting and useful things could be rapidly done on a computer in an on-demand fashion without the need to go somewhere and pick up a box! Need to look up the definition of a word? No problem, go to dictionary.com. Need to write a document and share it with various people? Google Apps to the rescue! Need to a way to manage your complex sales process? Look no further than Salesforce.com. In essence, in the last decade, the web has become an effective software delivery channel for consumers. And in the process that channel has virtually wiped out desktop applications. I can’t remember the last time I bought a software product box from a store. Can you?
Finding out what to use on the web can be daunting though. We all discover something useful on a daily basis; in many respects, the means for learning about new and useful websites is facilitated via social media, but finding web apps is like wading through a jungle for the average consumer. Google, for the most part, is the web’s product catalog, yet, you the consumer are left to determine a particular product’s efficacy if someone in your social network hasn’t already vouched for it. Consequently, the breadth of web applications the average consumer uses regularly is probably as narrow as it was before the advent of the web.
It’s easy then to look at the rapidly evolving mobile landscape and the ever growing popularity of HTML5 and predict a similar result: native mobile apps will go the route of the web because that’s what has happened already. Web apps will destroy native apps just like they destroyed desktop ones! Yet, there is one thing missing in this equation: software delivery via curated app stores. You see, what was absent in the early days of the desktop was an accessible online app store.
All major mobile platforms offer app stores: Apple has its App Store, Google as Play, Amazon has its Appstore for Android, and the list goes on. These app stores make it extremely easy to distribute software and, what’s more, make it straightforward for consumers to find relevant apps. Need an app to calculate tips? No problem, search it out in your app store of device, read the reviews, download the most highly reviewed one, and within minutes you’re calculating the appropriate tip before you finish your dinner. That’s revolutionary!
This app store trend, by the way, is starting to appear on desktops and the web because of their success on mobile devices. It should come as no surprise that my most recent desktop software purchases were from the Mac App Store; what’s more, you can browse the Chrome web store from your desktop as easily as you can browse the iOS App Store on your iPad.
Thus, software delivery on the mobile platform is, at least for the foreseeable future, firmly established via app stores. And app stores cater to native apps (100% native and/or hybrid) only. The average person will not look for useful apps via their device’s browser: that route is still a jungle. And, at this point, there is no viable pure play mobile web app delivery channel.
If you are betting against native apps, you had better consider how consumers find and consume apps. Just because the web made it easier for consumers to use apps (and thus crushed desktop applications in the process) before the mobile revolution, it doesn’t necessarily mean native apps on mobile devices will be crushed by web apps again. The software delivery channel is firmly established on mobile devices and until those app stores support icon-ifying URLs, native is the only means for mass consumer discovery.
Thanks to Software Box Vector Blue for the image of a software box.