Apps vs. browsers: the internet is in a state of change

Internet usage on smartphones increased sharply in Germany by 25 percent compared to the previous year. According to a study conducted by the Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft (BVDW), Google and TNS Infratest, more than 25 million people use mobile devices to access the internet each day in Germany.

This development is accompanied by a change in the internet. While desktop users almost without exception use web browsers to access the Internet and the infinite range of web services, browsers on smartphones are quickly losing their importance. In their places are native apps, which present information from only a small segment of the internet. The most recent figures published by the app analysis service Flurry from the US market are one example of this. According to the figures, users are online 2 hours and 42 minutes a day and 86 percent of this time is accounted for by apps. Games are the primary usage at 32% followed by social networks such as Facebook and Instagram apps (17%) as well as messenger services like WhatsApp.

Only 14 percent (22 minutes) of the entire online time remains for surfing the internet using browsers.

Several factors serve to reinforce this trend:

  • The range of special apps and their functionality continues to grow. Therefore there is less reason to access the mobile internet at the same time using a browser.
  • Despite mobile optimization of many websites, most apps are far superior to “normal websites” in terms of usability and convenience. The relatively small smartphone displays require a completely different technical approach that can only be implemented to a limited extent in browsers. Thus the performance of many offerings does not satisfy user requirements and expectations according to a study by BVDW. Across all sectors, it is criticized that sites are cluttered (58 percent) and not very user friendly (36 percent). 26 percent of respondents also criticized the fact that vertical and horizontal scrolling are required.
  • In addition to this, trends often have a self-reinforcing effect. Demand determines supply, which then in turn increases demand. Therefore it can already be observed that the dominance of apps is having an effect on developers and platform operators such as Apple or Google in the browser-based internet. For example, it is not very worthwhile for Google to invest in mobile web offerings when specific apps for YouTube, Drive, Maps or Gmail are being used primarily.

This development is shifting slightly due to the increasing use of tablets. These offer more user-friendly conditions for surfing the internet with browsers with their much larger displays. And consumers still prefer their browsers and the accompanying freedom to research outside the confines of a web offering defined by “gatekeepers” when looking for products and services.

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