Many smartphone owners likely remember the era of Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), or a late-90s standard in which phone users were able to “access information over a wireless network.” WAP set a precedent for mobile internet access, despite providing this convenience at the expense of choppy, limited usability. This standard served as an important foundation to interactive mobile phone technology, maintaining mass relevance for much of the 2000s.
The advent of mobile apps
The smartphone app market quickly superseded WAP mobile web use by reimagining and simplifying the portable interface of Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, and other prevailing internet properties. Mobile web was quickly relegated to “second-tier” status as far as its comparative usage. Additionally, some of these properties eventually took measures to sway their audiences away from mobile web use all together. Facebook, for instance, recently removed the messaging feature from its mobile web page in an effort to transition users to its messenger app (in coordination with the Facebook app).
Mobile web’s resurgence
However, though apps have seemingly reigned as the apex mobile feature since the early 2010s, mobile web use amongst smartphone users has surprisingly endured. As of late, some users have actually started gravitating back to the mobile web iterations of mainstream properties, citing a better usability experience compared to that of their app versions. Despite Facebook’s efforts to move its general audience to its app properties, users of the site reported a particularly significant difference in usability between the Facebook app and the Facebook mobile web page. This trend, though somewhat antiquated in the scheme of technological progression, has apparently allowed users to spare battery power and avoid potential app crashes. In fact, an early 2016 report found that nearly 90 percent of Facebook users preferred mobile web use over the outlet’s app.
The future of the market
With the aforementioned pattern in mind, the mobile web market appears to have kept itself firmly rooted in its sparse, but easy-to-use origins. Yet, mobile apps have also endured in terms of their own popularity. This split in preference has come to define the current phone-based web landscape, and prevalent brands are beginning to take notice. Google and Facebook have already started to alter their approach to both the app-based and mobile web-based sections of their target audience. These brands have made moves to invest more in mobile web use as a “top of the funnel” technique for a wider range of potential users, while continuing to support their apps to appease the other half of the user spectrum.
Both scenarios provide users a mostly fluid version of the web experience–compared to that of vintage WAP technology–but moving forward, it is clear that major brands will need to repurpose their consumer goals to strive for equilibrium between two different, yet similarly intentioned groups of users.