Experts Split on the Future of Web Vs. Apps

About two-thirds of information technology experts expect the wide open, search-driven Internet to be stronger than ever in 2020, according to a survey released Friday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

About one-third of the 1,021 experts surveyed by researchers from Pew and the North Carolina-based Elon University School of Communications said they expect the open Internet to be overtaken if not subsumed in 2020 by more narrowly-focused mobile applications that rely on the Internet but don't offer the Web's universe-in-a-browser expansiveness.

"Tech experts generally believe the mobile revolution, the popularity of targeted apps, the monetization of online products and services and innovations in cloud computing will drive Web evolution," the report said.

Pew phrased the questions broadly to elicit respondents' comments, according to the report. Some respondents balked at the question, saying they couldn't speculate. Others said their prediction was really more of a vote for what they'd like to see happen rather than a guess about what will happen, the report said.

Jeff Jarvis, a City University of New York professor and blogger and one of Pew's experts summed up the pro-Web position: "The browser -- or its future equivalent -- will continue to have key advantages over apps. They are connected to the entire Net, they offer full interoperability, and they give the user more power than the developer or publisher. Yes, publishers have dreamed that apps would return to them the control of content, experience, business model and pricing that the Net took from them, but they are merely deluding themselves. The value is not in their control of content but in the ability to become platforms for users to do what they want to do."

The Pew paper cites estimates by Cisco that there will be 10 billion mobile Internet devices operating by 2016, about 1.5 times as many devices as people on the planet. Cisco also has predicted smartphone traffic will grow to about 50 times its current size by 2016.

Government agencies have rushed to embrace mobile audiences, launching nearly 100 mobile applications and mobile-enabled websites in the past few years.

Agencies have faced a tough decision, though, between building native smartphone apps and merely sizing their existing webpages to fit mobile browsers.