App use dominates mobile browser use, but what does that mean for news content?
The latest report from Flurry shows mobile users are spending the vast majority of their time with mobile apps, not with mobile Web browsers. So far in 2014, iOS and Android users have spent 86 percent of time with their devices using apps, up from 80 percent in 2013.
That certainly reflects how airlines, food delivery services, ride-sharing startups, and of course Facebook have embraced native apps over the mobile Web, to the delight of users. But the takeaway might be different for news organizations, whose apps still account for a rather small slice of time spent on mobile:
In January, Flurry reported that overall mobile use grew 115 percent in 2013, while the news and magazines category grew just 31 percent.
Cory Bergman of Breaking News has argued that news organizations need to offer apps with real utility in order to capture a bigger slice of the pie. As he wrote for Poynter, "simply extending a news organization's current coverage into mobile isn’t enough."
The value of apps like Breaking News and Circa, which aggregate information from all kinds of news sites and make use of push notifications on mobile devices, is that they offer features beyond what mobile websites do. That's not the case for lots of other native news apps that merely mimic the Web experience.
But what's interesting about many of the news apps that solve problems — Breaking News with its customizable alerts, Facebook Paper with its news-reading capabilities, and The New York Times' forthcoming NYT Now with links to outside news sources — is that they are still deeply integrated with the Web. They connect users to Web content.
Facebook alone commands 17 percent of mobile users' time, according to Flurry. That's an app, but it's an app whose value derives in no small part from its ability to surface interesting links. People using Facebook's mobile app visit mobile sites via Facebook's embedded Web view when they tap links shared on the platform, and traffic from Facebook is growing for many news organizations. But Facebook doesn't deliver readers to your native app.
So when it comes to news content that's increasingly accessed through indirect, side-door sources, the mobile Web is still very much alive. News organizations shouldn't look at Flurry's data and think readers are so enamored with apps that just any app presence will suffice, and neither should they look at the data and think providing a good mobile Web experience is becoming any less essential.
Those with the resources to do so should make more useful apps in order to compete with Facebook (think NYT Now), but they should also make better mobile websites in order to take advantage of the social giant as a traffic source.
Related: As CNN mobile traffic hits 40%, editor calls web vs. apps debate ‘red herring’ | What news organizations can learn from Facebook’s remarkable mobile turnaround | 5 reasons mobile will disrupt journalism like the Internet did a decade ago