Google web services, including the ubiquitous Google Search and the ever-popular YouTube, have a reputation in the mobile world for being better on the web, than in native apps. This is intentional, as they are designed to be very simple and easy to use right in your mobile browser. But apparently users don’t care. According to ComScore’s Mobile Metrix 2.0 report released yesterday, 81.1% of the mobile traffic to Google owned websites comes through native apps. In case you were wondering, that is 81.1% of 97 million unique visitors in one month - on mobile apps - for just Google. Lets throw in a grain of salt though - most mobile devices, even Apple devices, are set up in a way to make it much easier to access Google services through apps. This could just be a result of the “path of least resistance.” But I believe that at least at some level, what you are seeing is due to the power of the native app. It calls out to people to use it. It is almost like you own a physical thing when you have a native app, and there is a very strong psychological connection with that which works much better from a marketing and sales standpoint. So even when the native app is inferior, users still use the native app version of the world’s most popular apps.
This has also been true of Facebook, who didn’t have a very good iPad app until just recently. People would use the iPhone app on their iPad, despite it being much less capable and less aesthetic than the web version. Even with the bookmarking of a web app capabilities on the iPad and iPhone, web apps still have a hard time breaking through. Definitely take that into consideration when considering the web app vs native decision.
I am actually a huge supporter of mobile web apps, and I continue to see new ways come out in which mobile web apps make real business and usability sense. But in a large portion of the cases I look at on a daily basis, native still wins out.