The App and the Browser

In recent years mobile networking, in particular the use of mobile devices to access and share a wealth of information on the internet, has grown rapidly. The rise of two giants in the mobile space; Apple and Android, has helped bring about a vast step forward in how businesses and domestic users manage their online presence. The introduction of multi-purpose phones, designed to be able to hold your entire schedule, and to make it easier to communicate with business partners, clients, friends and family through social networking and email, has seen a great rise in the use of these phones for day to day life.

Nowadays it is imperative that your phone or mobile device does not just serve as a means of telecommunication, but can also map your day, inform you of your latest client meetings, update you on the happenings of your friends and business partners, and even direct you to the nearest post office or coffee shop using your location and the inbuilt GPS. Until the relatively recent influx of multi-purpose mobile devices, users would normally have to connect to the internet through a local wireless connection or Ethernet cable, normally on their laptop or desktop computer. However in 2008, phone developers began designing a series of functionalities available on mobile devices known as Mobile Applications.

The Development of Mobile Applications

The first generation mobile phones in the 1980’s were designed and developed in house by handset manufacturers, who would closely guard their designs as competition was fierce. Phone developers had no opportunity to write specific application programs for the phones, so instead they developed simple ‘time waster’ games such as snake and pong, taking inspiration from the popularity of gaming consoles at the time. These simple games were a hit, and soon consumers were pushing for more games and additional applications to be developed. Phone developers looked at the incredible success of the Nintendo GameBoy and similar handheld systems and tried to apply this success to the mobile phone. In addition to this, they looked into developing applications for organisation and productivity, such as world clocks, calendars, timers; things that would could be used in everyday situations.

Demand for these applications increased, and phone developers looked into connecting their mobile devices to the internet in order to provide a way to access the vast array of information and entertainment services available online. The first breakthrough with mobile internet was WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) during the late 90’s, however most WAP sites were simply plain text extensions of popular websites and news sites, allowing no customisation for those looking for something ‘more’ from their mobile phones. Popular websites were a step forwards, but consumers wanted complete personalisation so that they could access whatever website they wanted. As technology developed, with more capabilities being added including Wi-Fi and mobile data connectivity, phone developers now had the freedom to start designing ‘in house applications’ which were specifically optimised for the various phone systems on which they would operate. Handset manufacturers had to change their protectionist policies regarding handset design and development, in order to better pave the way for mobile application development. This change of policy set the scene for some of the biggest technology and retail companies, who were already prevalent in modern media; Amazon, BlackBerry, Google and Microsoft. These larger companies were now allowed to design and develop their own apps for use on specific handsets, allowing for a much broader range of applications, with much more customisability.

Mobile Applications in Daily Use

In the last few years, application design and development has exploded in popularity, with specific applications dedicated to ‘creating your own’ apps, with the ability to even copyright and market your new design and sell it on official app stores. Free applications are often made and distributed at no profit to the manufacturer although advertising can be a significant source of revenue, however with priced applications, 20-30% goes to the distribution provider such as iTunes or the Google Play Store and the rest goes to the app developer and producer. In addition to this, ‘micro-transactions’ have experienced a recent rise in popularity, mainly for games, where you can pay a small sum of money to obtain additional items not normally found in the game, or to earn rewards faster. This can be used to gain certain bonuses or to speed up in-game processes.

There has been some controversy surrounding micro-transactions, as the method used to pay for these transactions requires little more than a single tap confirmation if a credit or debit card is already set up on the mobile device, making it incredibly easy to spend money, no matter who’s using the device at the time. Mobile Application companies have advised on using parental security measures to prevent the accidental purchase and subsequent card charges caused by micro-transactions. However it remains to be seen whether educating parents on the uses of parental controls and restrictions is the answer, or if it is a problem that is better solved by the restriction of micro-transactions in regards to games that are aimed at minors. Applications have been designed for many social media platforms and are extremely popular for sharing social media, for arranging meetings between friends and have even experienced relative success in regards to business communications. Applications such as Facebook and Twitter encourage daily updates on social interactions, whereas video applications such as Vine and YouTube can be used to share useful tutorial videos. For business applications, mobile apps such as LinkedIn, Pinterest and WordPress are popular, as they provide business owners a way of communicating with their clients on a more personal basis.

Browser Redundancy

There has been a lot of speculation floating around about the increase in mobile application popularity, and its success in comparison to the internet browsers we use today. Some users have even claimed that apps are the way of the future, and that internet browsers could become redundant as more and more applications are made to meet the needs of consumers in lieu of internet browsers. However the demand for applications versus the use of browsers really depends on the requirements of the individual, as some users may prefer to rely on applications and mobile devices, whereas other users prefer a desktop setup which has the required specifications to be able to handle the more complicatedly designed internet browsers, including multiple tabs and websites optimised for home use. Are Browsers redundant? Although there may be a reduced need for browsers on mobile devices, for desktop PC’s, browsers still offer a wide range of customisability and diversity, allowing access to several websites at the same time, in comparison to applications which require an individual app for each website. Mobile applications offer more custom options in comparison to the features provided on the website, but like multifunctional phones, browsers will still continue to be used, as they allow a multitude of websites to be accessed on a variety of platforms, regardless of whether you happen to own the ‘application’ for that website or not. For this reason, we are unlikely to see mobile applications replace internet browsers as the main means of accessing information right now, but instead they will continue to develop and grow alongside browsers to enhance the online experience as a whole.

Mike James is a freelance writer and historian from Sussex, UK. As a tech geek in his spare time he combines his interests to write about PC issues and technology for TMB, Technology Means Business, an IT support provider in the south east.