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Are web apps and AI threatening the future of mobile apps?

Are web apps and AI threatening the future of mobile apps?

This story begins in 2008, with the launch of iOS 2.0 and the introduction of the App Store. This launch opened up a whole new market, the market of mobile applications. Years passed and the mobile app market really exploded. Today, there are millions of applications available. If we have a look at the number of downloads in 2021 worldwide, there were 230B downloads of mobile apps and games for both the Play Store and Apple Store combined. That’s a huge number!

Average retention and churn

It’s not all good news, though. A quick look at the average retention and churn, there’s an average churn rate of 71%. This means that after 3 months, there’s only 29% of the users left.

Has the era of mobile applications come to an end? Let’s find out!

Threats for mobile applications

Threat 1: Voice is replacing touch

There have been numerous updates regarding voice search engines like Siri and Google Assistant. These virtual assistants are becoming more and more mature, with support for third-party devices and offline speech recognition. At this moment it’s even possible to make reservations or appointments with these assistants. The person on the other side doesn’t even realise that they are talking to a computer bot.

Voice interaction is very popular nowadays. Statistics show that 71% of the respondents indicated that they prefer voice search through a personal digital assistant over typing their request. People are talking to their smartphones, smart TVs, cars, smart home speakers, and so on. They’re turning on their thermostats, the lights, … More than half of the people who use voice search, use voice shopping for their groceries.

Threat 2: AI is replacing UI

What you have just read about voice search also applies to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in general. There are all kinds of AI services and AI applications that are replacing mobile applications as we know them.

For example, scanning QR codes with the smartphone camera. This is AI-enhanced and recognises QR and barcodes automatically. The time when you had to install a separate QR code scanning app is a thing of the past. Other examples are contextual weather updates. Your smartphone knows when you are about to go outside. Instead of manually checking a weather app, you get an automatic update on your screen.

It is also possible to book meetings with tools such as CalendarHero. If you want to book a meeting with someone via email, it is possible to include an additional email address via CalendarHero. This will book the meeting for you. It understands what the other person said, what their availability is and the assistant books the appointment for you. This saves time, because you no longer need to look manually in your calendar.

Google Nest is another prime example of AI in your home. Nowadays, you can control the heating at home with your smartphone. Google Nest tries to prevent this by learning when you are at home. That way, it knows when to turn the heating on or off. This makes the mobile application superfluous.

Threat 3: The line between web and mobile is fading

Web pages are beginning to look more and more like (mobile) apps. The main reason for this is Progressive Web Apps or PWAs. The main idea of a PWA is to offer mobile functions that were previously only available in mobile applications. These web apps are thus richer in functions, without the hassle of having to install an actual mobile application.

Google on PWAs

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) use modern web capabilities to deliver an app-like experience. They evolve from pages in browser tabs to immersive, top-level apps, maintaining the web’s low friction at every moment.

The idea of PWAs was to use the advantages of a mobile app without the disadvantages. The following image is from in 2015 and explains how this actually works. A web page shows you a banner to engage you to install the application. That means you can add this web page to your homescreen. This adds a splash screen to the web app and your app will be able to work offline.


Nowadays, a PWA has many more possibilities since that image was created. You can also receive push notifications, use your camera, check your location, etc. Besides the technical possibilities, there are also other advantages of using PWAs.

Imagine that you own a webshop. If you publish this webshop as a web app, Google and other search engines will be able to index the articles in your webshop. This way, they can be found by users in the search results. This is not possible in a mobile application. The next advantage is that you no longer need specific knowledge of the Android and iOS platform to support the web app. You don't even need an app store to publish a PWA.

Is there still a reason to develop mobile apps?

We have gone through the threats to mobile applications. Is there really still a reason to develop a mobile application now? Here are four reasons why it is still a good idea to develop a mobile application.

Reason 1: Users are asking for it

Let's look at some graphs of how users use their screen time. We see that users spend more time looking at their smartphone screen than they do watching TV, for example.

Average screen time

The time spent on the smartphone can also be broken down into app time and mobile web time. Here we see that users spend up to 12x more time on mobile apps than on mobile web. So users actually still want to use mobile apps.

Average time spent online

Why do they prefer mobile applications? They expect an omnichannel experience. That means they want the best experience without trade-offs on any platform. The days when a user only had one smartphone as their only digital device are long gone. People have tablets to read their newspaper in the morning. They talk to their car while driving to work. People work several hours a day on their laptop or PC. All while carrying their smartphone. Because of this, they always expect the best experience on all their devices. Therefore, it is important to always keep mobile applications in mind.

Reason 2: Mobile presence is relevant

Firstly, we see that apps increase user engagement. This means that users are 3x more engaged with a mobile app, than with mobile web apps. Mobile apps can also be a part of your strategy in how you want to be perceived as a brand by your customers.

Reason 3: Mobile apps offer unique features

We have already covered PWAs, the apps that try to give you a mobile experience. However, there is still a gap between a PWA and a real mobile application. Mobile apps are still richer in features.

In addition, mobile apps also have the time advantage. Let’s suppose that Google or Apple release new features in their respective operating systems or add new pieces of hardware in their phones. Mobile app developers have faster access to these innovations. It can take months or even years before web applications have these features. They may even never get these features.

User experience and overall look and feel are a few examples of the unique characteristics of mobile apps. Mobile apps are designed based on the native designs of Android and iOS. This is much more difficult to achieve in a web application.

We have already touched on the subject of AI above, but it is certainly not always a threat to mobile applications. What we actually see is that AI often enhances your mobile application instead of threatening it. Both Android and iOS have native functionalities to support AI features on the device itself. This is not possible in a PWA.

The same applies to Augmented Reality (AR). Both Android and iOS offer native functions to support AR applications. This is in fact also possible in a web app, but it is a lot harder to add.

Finally, Near Field Communication (NFC) and Apple Touch ID are also examples of functions that are not possible in a web app.

Reason 4: A mobile app is faster and more convenient

Technically speaking, mobile apps are a lot faster than PWAs. Without going into too much technical detail, a web app is single-threaded and a mobile app is multi-threaded. This means that a mobile app performs better when multiple tasks are performed simultaneously.

When you open a web app, you are dependent on your internet connection. When you browse to a certain website, you have to download all the necessary assets. In a mobile application, all these assets are packed into the mobile app and stored locally on the device. This means it will be much faster and easier to open.

Conclusion: Are mobile apps the way forward?

So we have weighed up the threats and benefits of mobile applications. Does this mean that a mobile app is always the way forward? It depends. There is no clear yes or no. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for applications. Your use case will determine what the best option is. To help you decide, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s the required functionality?
  • What does my future roadmap look like?
  • Who’s my target audience?
  • Is it an internal application or an application aimed at customers?
  • Is it part of my core business?

Embrace the future with mobile apps!

Explore why mobile apps remain relevant amid AI and web app growth. Engage users, offer unique features, and stay ahead. Let's discuss your app strategy!

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