12 digital fundraising trends for 2012 #5 Mobile App vs Mobile Web

It was back in September 2010 that Wired featured the cover story  ‘The Web is Dead – long live the Internet’, explaining that the traditional means of engaging with data on the Internet by browsing pages on the World Wide Web was fizzling-out as we increasingly turned to Apps to make the connections and access the information we want. This demise being driven by the incredibly rapid adoption of Smartphones – with finger-driven smaller screens on which traditional web browsers typically offer a less than ideal user experience. More heat was added to the debate just last month when the CEO of Forrester Research presented an interesting argument at the Paris LeWeb conference for why the shift from Web browsing to what he termed ‘App-Internet’ is the next natural evolutionary step for all computing.

Based on the sustained hype around Mobile Apps over the last couple of years, including in the non-profit sector, you could easily be led to believe that this evolutionary step has already been made and that if you don’t have a Mobile App at the heart of your next digital campaign then you really can’t be taking digital engagement seriously.

However, the truth is somewhat different and, looking ahead to a year when supporter engagement through mobile digital devices will continue to grow in importance, it is important for non-profit marketers and fundraisers to understand that Apps aren’t always where it’s at for all of their digital engagement needs.

Mobile App use has certainly soared over recent years, but announcement of the Web’s demise remains somewhat premature based on the mobile usage data available. The first signs of the two approaching parity only came at the end of last year, when comScore released data showing the numbers of US mobile device subscribers using Apps just passing those browsing the Web on their device – at 44.9% (up 3.3% in 3mths) vs 44.4% (up 2.3% in 3 mths):

Interestingly, this data was taken by many of those in the App world as evidence that the war was over and Apps had won. But I read it somewhat differently – as the two are both still growing faster than any of the other uses listed (as an aside – you’ll see that texting is still growing apace too, so fundraising growth opportunities continue to be available there). For those interested in the equivalent data for Europe you can read comScore’s EU5 Mobile Benchmark Data for Sept 2011 here – which shows a similar picture

Examining other data helps shed some light on the growth seen in both mobile Web and App use, as it appears that at present consumers are actually using them for somewhat different activities:

If it’s online shopping (the closest category to donating) that you’re into then Mobile Browsers still apparently dominate, as they do for Search. It’s when it comes to users communicating with each other in the ‘Inform’ and ‘Connect’ categories that Apps take the lead (e.g. Twitter and Facebook Apps). This will undoubtedly change over time, with retailers launching App-based catalogues at the same time as HTML5 offers more mobile-friendly options for browser-based UIs – but for now there seems to be a clear Browser/App divide between Spending and Connecting.

With this in mind, when you reach the point of considering mobile opportunities and requirements in your digital fundraising planning this year – don’t just be led off blindly to invest your time and/or money on another charity App to add to the pile of rarely downloaded and even more rarely used vanity apps created over the last couple of years (I know there are some exceptions to this – but I’ve found them sadly few thus far). Stop to think about just what role a mobile Website might play in your strategy as compared to a Mobile App.

It may be that you need one, or both, or neither.

Because, of course, it’s also useful whilst in the midst of the whole Mobile Web vs Mobile App debate to remember that while both are growing apace, Mobile browsing still only makes-up a small proportion of all Web browsing – still under 10% according to recent data from Net Applications:

So perhaps you should begin by focusing on getting your main website and key landing pages performing better – and once that’s underway come back to the question of Mobile App vs Mobile Web?

This is the fifth of 12 posts that I’ll be publishing throughout January on trends I think will prove to be important for digital fundraising in 2012. You can find the previous trend post, on Microdonations, here.