Will Apps Kill Websites?

I've been an eBay user since 1999, and I still frequent eBay as both buyer and seller. In that time, eBay has transformed from a place where geeks sell broken laser pointers to each other, into a global marketplace where businesses sell anything and everything to customers. If you're looking for strange or obscure items, things almost nobody sells new any more, or grey market items for cheap, eBay is still not a bad place to look.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/04/will-apps-kill-websites.html

Apps also have platform restrictions. For example many sites will not make a iOS app because they have to give 30% of their sales to Apple.

Platforms that like to skim off the top make web sites seem more inviting to many companies.

Completely agree with your closing statement. Mobile-first web dev/design practices are becoming more popular, well explored and well documented/explained these days. Lets hope this can deal with your “Apps are better” list items #2 and #3. #4 is being dealt with (somewhat inadequately) by HTML5 storage solutions. #1 is… well, that’s an arms race, and apps will likely always be ahead here being closer to bare metal BUT we may get to the point where its not very important.

And now we can go back to worrying whether robots will kill humans.

Will Apps Kill Websites?


Will Apps Kill Webapps?

Maybe, and that’s a good thing.

You can use apps as long as Apple deems you fit. Ebay is a good example, I am surprised they allow it. Why don’t they say ebay is circumventing their Apple payment system by allowing people to login to ebay and buy stuff with Paypal?

I think that the web will improve thanks to the apps, I’ve seen it at work, where just the process of creating the mobile site has brought a full re-evaluation of the desktop site.

You’re right, but I think there is one more important point - especially for examples like eBay: the app was built recently, and without any legacy cruft.

I think one factor that is missed is “A good app might kill a bad website”, and a “bad app won’t kill a good website”.

I don’t know why someone would spend $100k to develop an app but not $20k to fix a web page, but it happens. Maybe people expect web pages to be stupid, cluttered, slow, and hard to use.

If a coding horror or stackoverflow app would kill the respective sites, something would be really wrong.

The Ebay website is far from unique in the design cruft that has accumulated on it. You could argue that the problem isn’t so much with the web designers, or even the product people trying to shift their particular block onto the real estate, but the twin problem of a [1] desktop-sized display with a [2] pixel-accurate mouse interface. The Ebay app looks beautifully streamlined on the iPhone and the iPad, and the common factor here is the display size and the touch interface. Basically, the twin pressures of a small display coupled with a chunky touch interface (chunky in sensitivity compared to a mouse) force mobile designers to design in large, discrete blocks, which also happen to help streamline data rendering.

The proof of this for me is that mobile sites and apps often feel kind of chunky and under-designed when mapped onto a desktop monitor. I suspect it’s not just the display, but the fact that the mouse interface encourages pixel-sized interaction, whereas the touch interfaces are completely in the other direction. In other words, where do you ‘click’ on a mobile site? This could be ameliorated by changing the nature of mouse from ‘clicking’ to ‘touching’ – i.e., deliberately ‘degrading’ the sensitivity of the mouse, from a desktop perspective. I suspect the main culprit here is the mouse interface itself, and not the screen size, resolution, location, etc.

Perhaps Ebay-style websites could be redesigned along more effective principles if the nature of mouse/screen interaction was rethought?

The problem is JavaScript and standards that are only partially and/or incorrectly implemented. That’s the only reason we see so many mobile apps instead of mobile sites: they are easier to code, deliver and monetize.
Who wants to spend time and money to develop JS apps for all different browser/OS combinations?
It’s infinitely easier and cheaper to code native apps today.

Solution: give us Dart or similar “real” language, and stop supporting obsolete browsers.
Until then, we are condemned to live in the App world.

Focus is why apps are better.

You have less real-estate so you have to focus on delivering what matters.

Another PRO for websites: They are findable in search engines. Mobile apps, not so much. There are ways around this like cross-linking between web and mobile app but that requires you to have a web app too.

Adam Nash (Greylock Partners) covers some of this in his mobile user acquisition series (detailed article links further down the page): http://blog.adamnash.com/2012/03/28/product-leaders-user-acquisition-series/

Adnan: There are object-oriented Javascript frameworks out there that allow application-like sites to be built, and jQuery offers a browser-independent baseline for dealing with the DOM.

Of course, there is one simple way to encourage app-centric design on a website: take away the notion of page scrolling. The browser is pretty much the only common WIMP application that both allows and encourages scrolling of the main canvas. If you designed a website with a one-page canvas, you would be more than halfway to presenting it like an application. But in the days before AJAX and high bandwidth the concept of a ‘one-page website’ (in other words, ‘an application’) was untenable.

I very much hope that sites and [in-browser] apps will merge eventually. An ‘app’ will be just the ‘site’ adjusted to the features available on your device, with niceties which a local app can afford: precached data, integration with other parts of the platform, etc.

Of course, ‘site’ will always be there, as long as the ‘browser’ concept is around.

“Will Apps Kill Websites?”

No. Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.


NO WAY. Otherwise need to have millions of apps on my iPad/iPhone.
Always we have to use google to search for website not apps.
It is much easier to remember or search and use domain names.
Only apps for Top 50 Websites as amazon may be used.
Apps should not be for websites, for other things , as calculator, games, etc.

Your points are valid, however I think there is room for both. Sure as the mobile devices become more prevalent the focus will switch to Apps, but I can’t help but feel that sites will always make a good companion for Apps.

I’m not sure I agree with the idea the ebay website is complicated to use. I’m not an ebay regular and yet I don’t find it that difficult to use. I just find it ugly. Not hard.

In any case, the whole premise of the article is sketchy. It’s a given that a simplified version of a website will be… simpler. What’s to tell?

How we get from there to “will apps kill websites”? The tablet and smartphone market isn’t even comparable to the computer desktop market. It’s just a fraction of it.

“But only the websites stupid enough to let them”

Most important part of this whole question.