Evaluating the future of the “Mobile Touch Web”… Will mobile apps die in favor of rich, mobile browser-based apps?

February 4, 2010 by Lisa Oshima | Developers, Mobile, Research

Today, I read a fascinating report today from Mobile search engine, Taptu, which outlines trends in the “Mobile Touch Web” (i.e. content that can be run on “any touch screen device equipped with a Webkit- based mobile browser.”)  Taptu “analyzed, categorized and measured more than 100 million sites on the mobile touch Web and classified them by 20 categories and 200 sub-categories”, and this report provides insight into the areas of emerging importance in this space. 

While touch web content isn’t new, (the category has been around for years -even before the iPhone – especially with early PalmOS and Windows Mobile devices), Taptu’s research is particularly timely, given last week’s Apple announcement regarding the iPad and other announcement regarding tablet-style mobile computing devices.  For developers on a limited budget, creating touch-based web content has been one of the easiest ways to publish on mobile, without having to worry about the skyrocketing costs of cross-platform development.

In the report, Taptu says it started crawling and indexing  the “Mobile Touch Web” since early 2009: “We scan more than 100 million Web sites each month using specialized software that detects whether any given site is a full Web site or a Mobile Touch Web. We then categorize them by interest area and score them by quality.” One of the most interesting parts of this report is a graph that compares the size of the “mobile touch ecosystem” to the reported number of iPhone (148,000 apps according to Mobclix), Android (24,000 apps according to Androlib), Blackberry (4,000 apps), and Nokia (2,500 apps) apps available on their respective marketplaces.  In it’s most recent report, Taptu found 326,600 websites with touch screen interfaces, which is much more than the reported number of mobile apps on any of the aforementioned platforms. Additionally, Taptu says that  the “Mobile Touch Web” features more shopping and services functionality (20%) than  3.6% in the Apple App Store. Conversely, the Apple App store has a stronger proportion of games than the Mobile Touch Web (18% vs. 0.9% on the Mobile Touch Web).  Other popular categories in Mobile Touch Web include Photo and Design, Social Networking,  and world affairs.

Taptu predicts that there is  a second wave of sophisticated content coming for Mobile Touch Web. “By the end of 2010 we forecast that the Mobile Touch Web will have grown to more than 500,000 sites, and to 1 million sites by the end of 2011.” This prediction is consistent with other predictions out there that I’ve seen from folks at Google and elsewhere that predict that the mobile application ecosystem will ultimately fade in favor of sophisticated browser-based applications that run across mobile OSes on sophisticated mobile browsers.

What do you think of Taptu’s report? Do you agree with Taptu’s assessment that “With support for HTML 5 features already being rolled out in these browsers, it’s getting easier and easier to create rich touch screen user experiences with the browser”?  Are browser based applications the way of the future? If so, where does this leave applications that tap into rich, mobile device-specific APIs (i.e. Camera, etc.)? Weigh in by commenting below.

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