App Creep and the case for the mobile browser

The problem with Apps (well, one problem with Apps) is that they’re largely impulse-buy items. The result is predictable: you wind up with having to wade through screen after screen until you find the one you want. And in doing so you pass lots that you don’t use much — or haven’t actually used at all. Hence the new syndrome: Apps creep. Kevin Kelleher has written a thoughtful piece about this.

By app creep, I mean the collecting (and then forgetting) of software programs. It isn’t new. But on mobile phones, the less popular apps are more visible, even a nuisance –- you frequently flip past pages of them searching for the one you need. It’s less of a problem on laptops and desktops, in part, because of the centrality of the web browsers on those devices. On a smartphone, I use a browser well less than a quarter of the time. But sooner than later, that will change, because as more and more companies offer services on the mobile web, the mobile browser will play a bigger role. Thanks to the advent of HTML5, browsers and apps will learn to live with each other.

In the meantime, while there may be 200,000 apps for the iPhone and 50,000 for Android phones, but iPhone users have on average just 37 apps installed and Android owners, 22, according to the latest figures from Nielsen. Of course, not all apps connect users to the web, but many of those that don’t contain content that can easily be found online.

Eventually, a spot on the home screens of smartphones will become like beachfront property in Monte Carlo –- highly coveted real estate. Most non-elite developers will find it easier to reach a mobile audience through the browser. But for now, the lion’s share of them are ignoring the browser in favor of native apps, which -– unless they’re a featured or best-selling app in an app store -– often languish in obscurity…