Is the 'app' killing the web as we know it?

Some people will naturally be skeptical about handing over personal details via apps than on a website. So what does this  mean for website owners?


It seems hard to think of a world without smart phones yet it was only five years ago that Nokia was the hottest technology brand and we all raved about handsets that flipped open like a Star Trek accessory. Fast forward five years and the Finnish handset company is struggling to retain a foothold in the mobile market. Their underestimation of the use of mobile communications for everything apart from actually making telephone calls is akin to the delays by Microsoft in the early 1990’s in understanding that the Internet, and not hardware, would be the driving user trend. Whilst Android and Blackberry driven phones are important, it is the phenomenal growth of the Apple devices that is today threatening to alter the dynamics of how we interact with the digital world.

Back in early March, Apple announced they had just passed through the 25 BILLION download mark from its App Store. The number of new apps being added to the store is on average 345 per day, and growing whilst the total number available for download has now topped the 680,000 mark. Combine this with a growth forecast of over 30 million per quarter for Apple IoS devices (iPhones and iPads) and your head will start to spin. There can be no doubt that at the present moment, Apple has the power in more palms than any other company in history.

But what does this mean for internet use in general. We all know that mobile access will soon surpass desktop access but does the explosion in the number and variety of apps mean our surfing habits will change?

Back in 2007 when the iPhone was first launched, it was seen as a device whereby you could combine your phone, email inbox and MP3 player in one place. Web surfing was in some ways a secondary consideration. A year later the App Store was born and the number of apps has grown every day since.  But are we now at a point of no return for traditional surfing?

The use of apps essentially builds a walled garden for content. Whereas before web users traditionally visited sites such as and then navigated away, they are using specific apps instead. Content providers are now trying to make that single visitor experience as worthwhile as possible. App users will rarely go to say the BBC app and then Sky News app. They favour one over the other. Therefore app development has become even more crucial for content developers.

Additionally, developers know that people will pay for apps. The average app price on the App Store is $1.98 which means that they can earn significantly more revenue from app development than content generation where they will have to fight for space in Google search (or alternatively have to pay Google for Adwords).

By far the biggest category of app downloads is in Gaming. Users like the portability of the device which makes it perfect for playing games on the go. No longer is there such a demand for playing online games found via web browsing where potential hardware issues with users machines can affect their gaming experience. Gaming apps are built specifically for the handset and avoid these issues.

So what does this mean for website owners? The answer to that question depends on what they want the user experience to be. Some people will naturally be more skeptical about handing over too many personal details via apps than they would on a secure website.  Advances in online security offered by SSL protection means that protecting your customers and users personal and financial information has never been easier. A SSL on a website is a hallmark of trust and security – apps on a smartphone cannot offer such reassurances.

For this reason alone the dark side of app development needs to be considered. The App Store is seen as a safe place to download software from. Apple’s stringent vetting process means that all apps are checked for quality before they are made available for download.  However, cybercriminals know the huge pot of gold that sits on each and every Apple device.  We use apps on a daily basis to check our bank balance, buy goods and share financial information. Therefore, they are constantly trying to find ways in which they can mine this information. Up until recently the dam had held fast but security company Kaspersky Labs have recently found a crack in the concrete. The "Find and Call" app, which was also available in Google's Android app store, was uploading the contact lists of users to a remote server, and sending out SMS spam to the harvested numbers. The SMS messages would contain a link to download the infected application.

This is one isolated case, but it emphasises the threat there could be from apps that are not all they are cracked up to be. Website owners need to remember the trust element if they go down the app development route. The walled garden approach is not a good strategy to follow if we want to continue to promote an open web infrastructure.

Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Communications, NetNames

10 July 2012

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