August 26, 2015
The Mobile Browser: The App That Is Eating All The Other Apps

The Always On Era Is On

It’s in the DNA of Americans to be mobile. Perpetually in motion. Advancing. Exploring. Moving ahead. 

So it‘s no surprise that with the advent of modern mobile technology, we have embraced the ‘always on’ lifestyle. 77% of Americans are reachable by smartphones now (2015  There’s no turning back. 

The Rise and Fall of the Apps

As of July 2015, there are more than 3 million mobile apps available on the most popular smartphones (Statista 2015).  Hey, I like my apps just like the next guy, but there is one that is way more useful than any other -- the Mobile Browser. I agree with Marc Andreessen in 2011 that “software is eating the world”.  I would take it further and say the “Mobile Browser is eating the software.“ 

A survey commissioned by Harris Poll in January of 2015 showed that only 18% of smartphone users said they strongly favor apps, and more than half said they click links within apps that take them to the Mobile Web. And Google+ recently admitted that a whopping 69% of their users dismissed the “Download Our App” interstitial and found it annoying (Techcrunch, 2015, “Annoyed By Mobile Sites That “Ask” You To Download Their App? You’re Not Alone”) 

The question is not whether apps or Web will win, but how they will work together in harmony? Because as cool as apps are, the browser-based experiences have a lot of advantages.


The Dirty Little Secrets of the Mobile Browser

We are only beginning to understand what this emerging Mobile Web platform is capable of creating (and destroying).  But one thing is clear: the Mobile Web space is underdeveloped and misunderstood. 

So, why is the Mobile Web becoming the people’s choice? Here are the secrets:

  • It’s Easier to Access. People don’t like barriers to entry. Call them lazy or laggards, but the masses of people like things that are easy. A website loads instantly. An app requires a multi-step process.
  • It’s “Free”.  The barrier to entry for surfing the Web on a smartphone keeps getting lower and lower. And every user knows the Web is free.  However, apps frequently cost money or have financial obligations.
  • It’s Fast and Getting Faster. The unprecedented explosion of cellular infrastructure continues its blistering pace, fueled by global demand. This infrastructure enables the Mobile Web to work as fast an app in many cases.
  • It’s Becoming More Powerful. The first versions of the mobile browser were fairly limited and frustrating to use (for instance, there was no way to attach a photo or a file to an email!). Today, the rate of development and mobile browser wars are fueling increasingly powerful browsers, which are gaining all the functionality that apps are known for.
  • The Anonymous Perception. The trend of valuing privacy and security is not a passing fad. but a critical trend we are seeing in mobile computing. When a user surfs the Web, they can choose to surf anonymously or in “private mode”. Privacy might just be a perception, but perceptions are powerful.


The Communication Gap and the Concept of “Micro Engagement” 

Unfortunately, despite the benefits of the Mobile Web, platform, there is also a huge disconnect in terms of the way it’s currently being used. Nowhere is this gap more apparent than in “mass market” communication, the business of engaging people on the go without an established relationship. I’ve had to deal with this issue first hand since 2009 when I started designing mobile website experiences for mass market campaigns. The reason there is a disconnect here is that the mobile behavior of human beings has created a new paradigm of communication I call ‘the mass market mobile communication cycle’.


The Missing Link

In this new paradigm, there is a missing link in the communication cycle for mobile customers, mainly due to differences in how consumers use mobile browsers versus traditional computers.  This missing link is illustrated below:

            Phases of Mobile Communication

When a content creator wants to send broad-based messages into the market, with the goal of reaching a new customers, they need to 1) initiate contact, 2) engage the user with content, 3) deepen the relationship, and finally 4) retain the relationship as a loyal consumer. 

Three of these four stages are currently well developed. Mobile search and mobile ad networks are developing rapidly in order to create awareness for the mobile consumers. For instance, Google mobile search has become an extremely popular way to connect a consumer with a content creator. A recent Google study found 95% of mobile users look for local information on their phones; 88% take action on the information the same day; and 59% get directions to a store (Google/Ipsos). 

Tremendous investment and innovation continues to propel the development of Mobile Websites and mobile apps, which are proving powerful ways to deepen and extend a relationship with a mobile consumer. Lastly, email, SMS and social media are effective for re-messaging to permission-based lists of consumers and create repeat business, referral and loyalty.


The Big Gap Is in Phase 2: Engaging. It makes sense there would be a hole here since we’ve only begun to utilize true mobile computing in the last few years. We’ve simply have never confronted this issue before – how do we engage a user on the go? Our conventional thinking is rooted in “desktop thinking” – videos, Flash games, downloads, chat sessions, promotions, and a host of other engaging activities that work great when someone is sitting a desk or relaxing in a couch. 

But those methods don’t work for a consumer out and about, on the go, distracted, or in a hurry looking at a small screen in their hand. This gaping hole in the communication cycle has created disconnected and disjointed experiences and loads of consumer frustration.


The Rise of Privacy & Anonymity

Further complicating the issue and making it even harder to create customized engagement is an increasing perception of consumers they are being watched, tracked, and followed. Retaining privacy is retaining security and control for consumers, and this issue is MOST RELEVANT in the mobile space. Consumers are turned off by invasive tactics such as having to download software, sign up for accounts, sign into accounts, volunteer private information, or having to change the settings on their phone. 

Additionally, consumers are increasingly choosing to “go incognito”. They prefer to not be recognized by content creators, but want all the features of customization. They are shutting off ad tracking, turning off Bluetooth receivers, Web surfing in private browser sessions, and messaging in “SnapChat” sessions that apparently disappear, leaving no record. 

The Web Browser has the potential to provide services that customers can trust and rely on.


The Requirements of Effective Mobile Engagement 

Given the nature of the new paradigm, we can logically say that in order to effectively engage the mobile consumer with no pre-established relationship, we must satisfy 3 basic criteria: 

1. INSTANTANEOUS. The consumer must not have to do anything for it to work.

2. HYPER RELEVANT. The consumer’s context, such as location, time, and other environmental variables, becomes part of the communication.

3. EASY TO USE SYSTEM. A system or platform that allows content creators to easily manage content, and consumers to fluidly use content, is employed.

Since no current tools are available that can satisfy these requirements, new disruptive innovations are needed.


Other Essentials of Micro Engagement 

Other unique qualities of a mobility engagement that would help fix the gap would be the following: 

1. Responsive – Lean, minimal content with no waste

2. Location Based– Uses environment variables, such as location, time and other to customize content

3. Universal, Adaptive – Fits every user’s screen and device

4. Useful – Geared toward actionable goals

5. Easy – Instantly available, touch-based UI

6. Sleek-  HTML5 framework gives the feel of an app

7. Private – Meant to operate anonymously with no account, sign in, or settings to enable

8. Complementary – Meant to complement other mobile content experiences, not replace them 

A tool with all of these qualities can effectively connect content creators with mobile consumers in more powerful ways.


The Business Case for Micro Engagement 

But as we know, unless there is a real business reason to fix the gap, it will probably never get done. The good news is there is a huge business case for turning to micro engagement principles. The 2 key motivations that drive business’ needs for building communications with mobile consumers are: 

1.Weaponizing the Customer: A relevant code that a user can scan at the point of sale would “weaponize” mass audiences and drive foot traffic. The scanner hardware technology is here and it is quietly becoming an integral part of any point of sale system. 

2.Improved Customer Experience: Giving customers a better mobile experience is a critical initiative for the world’s mass-market brands. They throw billions of dollars at apps, Mobile Websites, SMS/MMS and mobile search campaigns, but those aren’t tools that can supply the missing link in the mobile communication cycle.


The Conclusion – Making Mobile More Meaningful 

By changing our mindsets, we can fully embrace the concept of Micro Engagement. And the best vehicle for this experience is the Mobile Web. There are a range of possibilities and plenty of room for creative technologies to fill this gap – and the next 5 years will be an exciting time for Mobile Web, as we will be building the foundational communication tools for the next generation. 

And Mobile Browser will continue to become more and more powerful.

Jeff Williams is a mobile Web evangelist and co-founder of Mobile Oxygen, and co-inventor of the SnapScreen, a mobile content management system. You can reach him at and read more of his posts on his blog, Digital Incognita.