Earlier this week, we reported that Indian online store, Flipkart, had reinvented its mobile website in order to optimize it for Google Chrome, taking advantage of three new Chrome features. One is the enhanced performance for customers using a slow Internet connection, which accelerates the download speed of mobile sites. The second is the use of push notifications from the Chrome browser and the third is the ability to place a bookmark onto the Android home screen, which can make a website behave in a similar way to running a third party application.
So why, after years of encouraging customers to download an application, would a business perform a U-turn? Partially, it is because it simplifies the process of interacting with customers. Where a third party application is involved, customers must first download the application and in many cases, must maintain it, although this simply means keeping track on application updates. For all customers, it is a frustrating experience to go to use a third party application and it stops you from proceeding until you have downloaded an update to the application. For those of us with a poor quality, slow Internet connection, it is a painful experience, especially if the application is something we rarely use. For the businesses that direct all customers to download their application rather than using the mobile website, this can cause frustration.
Today at the Mobile First Summit at San Francisco, Google's Vice President of Performance Media, Jason Spero, said that brands have been too busy building applications over the last few years that their mobile websites are mediocre, and in some cases perform little function over directing customers to the application. For a business of service only occasionally used, this makes for a frustrating experience. There are smartphone customers with dozens of applications only launched every few weeks or months where the brand does not have a viable mobile website. Instead, applications are great for repeat, recurring customers rather than occasional customers. Jason added: "If the user has the app on the phone, let them navigate to the app from wherever they are on that app. But if they don't, they shouldn't hit a dead end and have a bad experience."
There is an underlying reason why Google would like to steer people away from mobile applications and this is because Google Search generates most of its revenue, and this in turn relies on businesses keeping websites that are studied by Google's web crawler robots to be included in its search engine. Google is developing technologies to allow customers to find third party applications (such as Google Now On Tap in Android 6.0 Marshmallow) but the technology is still in its infancy and very much under development. Google's web search technology is easily accessible and the information it gleans from website users is valuable.