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Jim Bray

There's an app for that? So what?

By Jim Bray
June 20, 2013

A special TechnoFile rant

Apps are everywhere, and many of them are pretty nifty tools that can help you shop, find your way around, get weather info, or just about whatever you could want.

They're also becoming very popular with such organizations as mainstream media outlets, who offer apps that can replace your web browser as ways to access their content. Magazines offer them, and so do many newspapers. There's a NY Times app (for anyone who wants the latest propaganda from the left), a Daily Mail app, an app for The Blaze (for those who lean more toward the right) – and the list seems to get longer every day.

Download their app and you can ignore your browser and instead swipe your way through their offerings with abandon.

They should abandon this trend.

Why? Well, these organizations spend a lot of money developing these apps and they're really designed as a way for them to shoot fish in a barrel – in that once you've downloaded and installed the app you're hopefully a customer for life, while eschewing competing outlets' content. Good for them and, supposedly, good for you because you get constantly updated content from a constantly updated app.

Nothing like being on top of things, right?

But these things are more of a pain in the neck – or lower – than anything. Here's why.

First of all, the pitches for them are obtrusive. How often do you surf by a web page on your mobile device only to be accosted by the site's request for you to install their app instead of using the website? It slows you down in getting where you want to go and, if you accept, you have to wait for the thing to download and install, which also means a trip to the app store and a login/password submission.

Why don't they just offer a link on their websites for people who want to download the app?

If you do decide you want the app, you're hit up with seemingly endless requests for updates of the app, which means you have to visit the app store again, put in your login/password again, and then wait for the app to download and update – in the meantime not being able to use the thing. Meanwhile, you could be back at their website, actually looking at content.

Sometimes the apps are resource hogs, too, operating slowly, undoubtedly because they've put so much machinery behind the app – and undoubtedly focused on slam bang, gee whiz graphics and effects – that it brings your device to a near standstill.

Here's a better solution that can still give the audience access to all your material online, but without all the annoying app eye candy: design and build a proper website!

A thoughtful, well-executed website is not only better for your customers, it's better for you, since creating mobile apps limits the content to iPhone and Android platforms currently, and increases the business's development costs to support both.

But a web page can work on any mobile device with a browser, from an old Palm Pilot, to the new BlackBerrys and other devices that may not have app support yet.

Okay, not every smart device will give you a great web browser, but most of the good ones do, and any website worth its salt these days should be optimized for portable devices. A website that works – that was designed with the user in mind and not necessarily the builder – is simple and attractive, quick to load, and will resize itself to fit just about any mainstream device. And it doesn't require a separate app.

And, on the iOS platforms – iPad, iPod, iPhone – you can add a shortcut to your favorite websites right onto your "desktop," a link that actually functions the same way an app icon does – touch it and it loads. Except that it loads the web browser and takes you directly to the website in question instead of loading an app. It's quick and easy and it works.

Don't forget, too, bookmarks are a proven way of organizing your favorite sites and they don't take up a lot of screen retail space.

So why would a company not just concentrate on building a compelling website instead of investing in an app that may or may not be as good and which needs to be updated more often than it should – at additional expense for the creator? It doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?

On the other hand, a lot of websites these days leave a lot to be desired, even if they are optimized for mobile devices. Many sites seem to be eschewing functionality and information dissemination in favor of superficial pictures, lists, or whatever is hot a particular week, and that's helping lead to a general dumbing down of the web. Information is becoming secondary to flash (no Adobe software pun intended), and websites are becoming more form than substance.

And what's with this redesigning of a website for the sake of a fresh look, while apparently forgetting in the process that their purpose is to inform, entertain or whatever. How many web sites have you frequented that suddenly went from straightforward and easy to use to ridiculously complex but, perhaps, more dazzling?

Perhaps the web developer community just needs constant change to justify their billing?

 Forget the razzle dazzle! Forget apps – and put that money to better use. Just make your website work! The world is waiting to beat a path to your door, if only you make it easy for them to get there.

Copyright 2013 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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