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3 Reasons Why Mobile Apps Won't Surpass the Web in the Enterprise

Mobile apps may surpass the Web among consumers. But the enterprise is a whole different beast, I argue.

Long before Web-era gurus popularized the notion of an 'Attention Economy,' there was Ben Franklin telling us that time = money.

So it's easy to understand why market researcher Flurry's report on Monday that U.S. consumers now spend more time on mobile apps than they do on the Web, created, well, a flurry of interest.

If we accept Flurry's methodology (taking its own primary research and comparing them with figures from comScore and Alexa), this report appears even more significant because the data compares mobile apps versus the time users spend using the Web and Facebook on both mobile devices as well as desktop and laptop PCs. Not PC-based Web usage only, as TechCrunch reported, nor mobile Web usage only, as GigaOm wrote.

Flurry showed only a narrow lead for apps over web. But another researcher Nielsen said Tuesday that apps have a commanding lead of 56% of smartphone usage, followed by e-mail/messaging at 19%, phone (voice) at 15% and web browsing coming in dead last at only 9%.

While these are significant data points on the consumer side, I think it's too early to infer much on the enterprise side. Yet, pundits gonna pundit, so here's my attempt to anticipate and shootdown three of their conclusions:

1) "Of course, native apps will also rule over HTML 5-based web apps in the enterprise." Let's look at Flurry's breakdown on what apps we are using:

86% of consumer time was spent on three activities - gaming, social networking, and entertainment - that have little or no relation to work (arguably, neither does news for most workers). So that's flaw #1.

Flaw # 2 is the fact that for these apps, but especially gaming and social networking, a rich interface and non-connected experience are key. It's harder to deliver that via the Web today. But HTML 5 will quickly improve the Web app experience on both counts.

Flaw #3 in the argument that apps smash Web is this: Attention Economics works in reverse in the enterprise. The longer you play a game or interact with Facebook, the more attention you give it, and the more value you generate to the makers of those app makers.

In the case of the enterprise, the length of time it takes you to complete a task is often inversely correlated to its value to the enterprise. So the faster you can approve an exception order or check on the status of workflow, the greater the ROI. Mobilizing these tasks, in many cases, will be easier and more convenient by building a Web-based app, or 'hybrid' app as we at Sybase/SAP like to call it, than building a full-fledged standalone app.

2) "As enterprises move towards apps, they'll also move towards consumer app stores." I can't imagine an enterprise CIO willingly putting an internal app up on a public marketplace for anyone, including competitors to gawk at or download. Nor would they be happy about the lack of app lifecycle management capabilities that consumer app stores provide today - or probably will ever provide.

That's where an enterprise app store should come in. This is essentially a whitelist of apps - both those hosted on public App Stores and those hosted internally on corporate servers - that the corporate mobile device management software (like Sybase's Afaria) makes available for automated or self-service deployment onto employee devices. The MDM software should also be able to offer the reverse - a blacklist of forbidden apps.

3) "Most mobile devices today aren't used for/at work. As more smartphones and tablets are brought into and managed by enterprises, the proportion of time spent on games and social networking will decrease." The assumption here is that as corporations roll out MDM software to manage and track employee or company-owned devices, they'll also crack down on time-sucking apps like games or Facebook.

In some cases, companies will do so. But in most cases, they won't.

After all, how many of you use work laptops where sites like Facebook or ESPN.com are blocked outright? Probably not the majority. I think a similar situation will evolve in the mobile space. A small sliver of corporations will crack down on frivolous/entertainment usage, but most won't, especially since the security risks from unsafe browsing, i.e. viruses, so far are not as apparent as on the PC Web. Either way, a good MDM package will enable corporations to deploy either scenario.