The Final Hurdle Is Cleared – Apps Will Replace Websites

I’ve been preaching the death of the web in favor of native mobile apps for a while now, but many don’t see it. They can’t imagine a day when their beloved .com will go away, disregarded as a relic of the early Internet. But today I believe we’ve begun clearing the last hurdle to app dominance, all thanks to a silent acquisition Google made last year of company call Agawi.

agawi-acquired-googleIf you’re like most people, you’re probably a co-user of apps and websites. You’ve downloaded a few games, utilities and shopping apps, but much of your time is spent online using the browser on your desktop or phone. Why is that? Why don’t you exclusively use either apps or a browser (which is an app, but let’s not go there)?

For one, browsers are universal. As of January 2014, there are over 816 billion web sites and trillions of pages. The vast majority of those sites do not have an app counterpart so if you want to view that content, your only option is a browser. It will take time for developers to recreate their web content into an app environment.

Another reason why web pages are needed is that it’s almost impossible to search for content within an app. In fact, it wasn’t until just recently that Google and Bing began to index app content so that it shows up in search results. To do this, they require a companion website that links to content inside the mobile app.

Search engines are not yet to the point where they can actually crawl and discover content within a standalone app. However, by creating a structure where content inside an app can be linked to from within the app and from external sources, they are on their way to enabling true app search.

The third major issue stalling apps from overtaking the web has to do with downloading an app. Most people don’t realize this, but when they visit a web page in their browser, they actually have to download the page to their computer. On modern high-speed networks, this happens in just seconds, but takes much longer with apps. They often require a minute or two to download; once downloaded, they take up precious screen estate and hard drive space.

Even if all web pages were in app form and search engines could crawl apps and help you find the exact content within an app, it would still take too long to download each app to be practical. To get around this, I’ve always assumed Google would develop some sort of app cache system, where a “lite” version of the app was quickly downloaded to a temporary storage location on your phone and then purged after you’re done reading the content (there are a few patents for this by the way, but none that Google owns). It turns out that a startup called Agawi has a much better solution, and it just so happens that Google now owns the company. According to tech news site, The Information, Google actually acquired the startup last fall, but kept it under wraps until just a few days ago.

Agawi has developed a technology to stream apps, just like Netflix streams videos. Instead of packaging the entire app into a single, large file for the user to download, the app is broken up into many small files, letting users interact with small portions of the app while the rest of it is downloading.

In the short term, it appears that Google wants to deploy Agawi for users try an app before downloading the full version. I think that in the long run, Google would love to solve some of mobile app’s problems with slow downloads in the same way YouTube brought video to the masses through its streaming video technology.

With this technology being developed and users continuing to spend more time online with mobile devices than desktop (see the chart below), I really believe it will only be a matter of time until the World Wide Web goes the way of the Dodo, fully replaced with native apps.

app-usage-comscoreAs search marketers, we should be especially concerned with the growth of app in relation to website usage. If things progress as it looks to me like they will, marketers will soon be tasked with optimizing and marketing apps in addition to, and perhaps instead of, traditional websites.

This means you’ll need a firm understanding of what search engines today can do with apps, as far as indexing and streaming go, and you’ll also want to urge your client to consider creating an app strategy if they don’t already have one. At this point, I think it’s safe to say the writing is on the wall. How long the Web will last is anyone’s guess, but I think app usage and marketing demand will start to accelerate very quickly now. Hold on, as I think search marketers have an exciting couple of years ahead of us.

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