By Cathy Hodson
One of the hardest parts about deciding which technology to invest in is waiting for the “standard” to emerge. Will it be the tablet? The smartphone? The notebook or laptop? The PC or Mac? And what about the myriad browsers and operating systems there are – for all of the above? Waiting for the winner to shake out or combine with or absorb other technologies is both fascinating and frustrating.
Yet this is really nothing new. Experts have been predicting for years that eventually the telephone, the computer and the television will all merge into one device. While we are closer to that happening…are we really closer? Is this something we really and truly want? Television screens have gotten wider and slimmer. Phones have gotten smaller and can do more. Computers have evolved from building-sized data warehouses to desktops to ultra-slim laptops to tablets. But do we really want a telephone the size of a widescreen, high-definition television? Do we want to watch television or surf the web on a cellphone? Do we want to have a cell phone that is the size of a tablet? Who’s to say which way this will eventually go?
But beyond the issue of which business will strike gold with which device, Pew Internet asked survey respondents whether the Web or apps would prevail in the future? (The web being the open world viewed through a browser, and apps being more of a closed environment that doesn’t use a browser.) The question arose out of a 2010 Wired article, which gave a nod to the burgeoning mobile market, and in turn asserted, “Over the past few years, one of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to closed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display.” In other words, the move from the web to apps.
Does this shift signal the death knell for the World Wide Web? “The latest surveys of American adults by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project show that nearly two-thirds connect to the Web via a smartphone, tablet computer, or an on-the-go laptop computer.” The study goes on to say, “In June 2011, researchers reported that time spent on apps began to outpace time spent on the desktop or mobile Web.* The change reflected a 91% increase in time spent with apps between June 2010 and June 2011. In December 2011, the technology forecasting firm The Gartner Group predicted, ‘By 2015 mobile application development projects targeting smartphones and tablets will outnumber native PC projects by a ratio of 4-to-1. Smartphones and tablets represent more than 90% of the new net growth in device adoption for the coming four years.’* Gartner predicts that 1 billion smartphones will be sold in 2014 – about double the number of PCs it expects will be sold that year.”
The survey respondents predicted, “While most people agreed with the statement that the Web will generally be stronger than ever by 2020, many who chose that view noted that it is more their hope than their firm prediction. Some 35% disagreed that the Web would be in better shape, and a number of survey participants said the outcome will be a combination of both scenarios.”
Fifty-nine percent of respondents agreed with this statement, “In 2020, the World Wide Web is stronger than ever in users’ lives. The open Web continues to thrive and grow as a vibrant place where most people do most of their work, play, communication, and content creation. Apps accessed through iPads, Kindles, Nooks, smartphones, Droid devices, and their progeny—the online tools GigaOM referred to as ‘the anti-Internet’—will be useful as specialized options for a finite number of information and entertainment functions. There will be a widespread belief that, compared to apps, the Web is more important and useful and is the dominant factor in people’s lives.”
And 35 percent of respondents agreed with the opposite, “In 2020, most people will prefer to use specific applications (apps) accessible by Internet connection to accomplish most online work, play, communication, and content creation. The ease of use and perceived security and quality-assurance characteristics of apps will be seen as superior when compared with the open Web. Most industry innovation and activity will be devoted to apps development and updates, and use of apps will occupy the majority of technology users’ time. There will be a widespread belief that the World Wide Web is less important and useful than in the past and apps are the dominant factor in people’s lives.”
Once again, it will be both fascinating and frustrating to see how this will turn out. I must admit I am rooting for the Web, much as I enjoy using apps. I find it a bit disconcerting as a web editor that the vehicle for my profession might go away! But both sides have valid points. Although those who hope the Web is here to stay are the majority at the moment, how long will that remain true? Stay tuned.
*References have been removed from the quotes. You can find those references at the Pew Internet Study link above. — Editor