The next big thing
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Apps nudge ahead of websites for smartphone reading

You might think creating a mobile phone app is a straightforward endeavour, particularly when a portion of them involve an almost like-for-like copy of content and design from an already well-honed website. But that doesn’t stop an awful lot of garish, and in some cases downright unusable, apps from appearing in my phone’s Android store. To use some of them feels like being handed an electronic whoopee cushion – a kind of masterful deception that begins with the app’s synopsis, initially promising the kind of value that several megabytes installation later, has you scolding the overlords of digital quality control.

But when an app is done right, with a clean and uncluttered design, it can make the digital reading experience on a smartphone significantly more comfortable and appealing than browsing the same offering’s internet equivalent.

The latest research from comScore, a digital marketing firm, supports this very premise, with its latest report into US mobile phone industry trends for May 2012 suggesting that 51.1% of its respondents (30,000 mobile subscribers) used downloaded apps on their mobiles, compared with 49.8% that used browsers. This shows an increase of 1.6 percentage points over February of this year, while browser usage increased by just 0.6% over the same period.

There certainly seems to be something in the idea that users want to access clear and engaging content from apps, perhaps at the expense of website equivalents that take longer to load, have a greater degree of clutter (mostly advertising) or links to other stories/websites that are not necessarily desired.

I know from my own personal experience that apps load much more reliably on my smartphone, often with just the right font-size (which can often require several forefinger-index finger pinches to get right on the website version) and zero unwanted advertising messages.

Do you prefer apps too, for the same reasons or for others? Or perhaps you prefer browsing the web version on your smartphone? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.