Are apps even that relevant anymore?

August 31st 2020

Are apps even that relevant anymore? This is a question that's been on my mind for a while, but has particularly come to the forefront with the recent Epic vs. Apple saga.

Sure, video games like Fortnite and software requiring native APIs make sense as an app (for now). But, if you're not a tilt-your-phone rolling-ball maze game, why not just make your software a great mobile-optimised website instead of an app?

Sometimes I feel that there's a mentality amongst new developers and naive businesses that mobile software must be in the form of an app. I can see why.

When the iPhone launched in 2007, apps were such a step up from the clunky text-based websites on our tiny manual-buttoned phones, who could blame anyone for wanting to develop a beautiful full-screen app? However, with that excitement, I feel the idea of making great software for the mobile web got left behind.

Developing an app is so much harder than building software optimised for the mobile web. Not only do you have the monetary cost of developer licenses and equipment (iOS devices) when developing apps, you also have a sigificant time cost involved for maintaining separate iOS and Android codebases, building & deploying to real test devices, and the delay and scrutiny your app goes under before updates go live onto an app store.

Once your app is live, you have the significant barrier of a user having to find it, then use their precious storage space to install it. Oh, and the app stores take a juicy 30% cut of your profits.

Who is actually winning here?

Increasingly, a trend I've caught myself doing is using the mobile website equivalent of an app. Instagram & Facebook's mobile websites for example have almost every feature of their app counterparts, without taking up massive storage space on my phone and draining battery with their background processes.

Even now with my own projects, a well optimised mobile website beats an app most times. Who needs push notifications (and the effort they require to set up) when email notifications do the job just fine?

In most cases, a great mobile website does the trick. You don't need an app, or the app store. We already have a pretty great app store and you're browsing it right now.