"The primary design principle underlying the web's usefulness and growth is universality"
--Tim Berners-Lee The Full Potential of the Web
Value creation will play an increasingly critical role in all marketing strategies in the year 2011. As modern marketers fight for attention in a world wrought with parity and endless alternatives, added value has become nothing short of essential. The web -- the entity that created the marketplace of choice -- is the very same entity empowering marketers to create a variety of value-adding tools and branded entertainment.
The original vision of the web was one of openness and standards, and these two tenets stimulated online innovation. Today, these tenets are being challenged by a variety of walled gardens and non-standard development approaches that, while easy to control, can potentially stifle vital innovation, thereby throttling developers, consumers, and marketers alike.
Standards and open architecture will be especially important in the year ahead, as they are major factors in creating a web of ubiquitous access. And in this critical time in the history of mobile computing, the standards we set now will also dictate our ability to build a web that is suited for a variety of device types and sizes.
But many marketers have abandoned open platforms in favor of device native applications -- these "apps" are largely distributed in walled gardens that can alienate significant portions of their consumer base. The lack of knowledge about the changing nature of web standards, coupled with the uninformed mandate to create device native applications without a thorough review of alternatives, is already making it difficult for many marketers to do their jobs effectively. And with all the recent changes in the mobile market, it's likely that 2011 will be the year when single-device apps as a viable business model begins to erode.
Mind you, my intent here is not to denigrate the "app": Device native app creation is still essential for certain functionality. Furthermore, just as AOL was responsible for getting Americans to use the internet, applications have bolstered the growth of mobile computing in the U.S. Although critical to mobile computing today, the growing truth is that many apps are no more than bookmarks to highly functional code that is no different in nature than a traditional website. This article will help marketers rethink the nature of mobile computing and their reliance on the app.
The argument for the open web
Figure 1.1 Device Native App Stores
The image above outlines the app store ecosystem circa December 2010. By now, this map is probably already outdated. The app landscape is changing at such an exponential rate, it is hard for anyone to keep up -- especially marketers, whose job it is to create consumer communications, not necessarily track technology.
The media marketplace is more fragmented than ever. We are undeniably heading for a state of implosion, which will then be followed by a restructuring of media distribution, which will largely be powered by HTML5 and other web standards. We have not yet arrived at such a place, but it is time for marketers to begin to examine this new, simplified way of engaging consumers through value-adding applications and content -- the beauty is, this new way will look a lot like things we have seen in the past.
What is an app, really?
The launch of the Chrome Web Store had many people questioning the difference between adding an app to their Chrome browser and bookmarking a site in their browser. The two experiences are similar, with two key differences:
- The IA of an application is often developed in a manner that puts function above form (content)
- You will notice that many "functional websites" are beginning to act more like iPad applications than traditional websites
- Consumers expect a different experience from an application. Unlike static websites, consumers have been trained to expect a more immersive occurrence from an app
HTML5 is (becoming) alive
Apple has always been excellent at creating unified, high-impact experiences. One of the main advantages that Apple's iOS has over the competition is seamless integration with the hardware on which it is shipped (as well as tight-knit integration with its distribution platform). Developers know exactly how to take advantage of the platform, maximizing the benefits of hardware components such as GPS, camera, and accelerometer. Consumers can access content with ease by plugging directly into the iTunes Store.
As a marketer creating branded experiences, it is important to remember that a consistent user experience is of paramount importance -- Apple's iOS ecosystem makes this possible. The problem is most consumers don't own an iPhone (or iPad, or iPod Touch). Luckily, advanced device functionality such as GPS is becoming fairly standard on most mobile devices and, to an increasing degree, laptops. Web browsers are becoming capable of accessing location data and other sensor data garnered via hardware allowing for the creation of robust apps on a variety of devices.