Last week I wrote a piece where I concluded that the browser versus apps argument was really a non-starter. As you might expect, many people saw it as an argument anyway with those who supported the browser being the most vehement.
In the pro-browser view, an app is just a disconnected layer between the user and the Web. On the other hand, the browser provides an open, standards-based way to interact with content that isn't isolated in app silos. As my friend Derek Allard, a web designer from Northampton, MA put it, the browser will win because apps are missing an essential part of what tends to make a technology successful: ubiquity.
It's hard to argue with that logic, but after writing the piece and processing these comments, I started consciously thinking about when I use the browser versus opening an app on my mobile devices: iPhone and iPad. When I need to conduct a search, I always open the browser, regardless of the device. When I'm on the iPhone I tend to use apps to read because I find they are better designed for the smaller iPhone screen than the browser, but I found I used the browser more on the iPad for the same publications. After, observing my own habits more closely, I learned that it truly isn't an either/or proposition just as I wrote last week, and the best Apps provide a path to the browser and other applications.
One excellent example of app-browser integration in my view is Flipboard, an app that delivers content using RSS feeds from sources such as Google Reader along with social feeds from Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and so forth -- presenting them in a gorgeous magazine style layout on the fly. You can flip through the pages, find what you like, tap it to see more detail, then tap it again to see the full article in the browser.
Tap the Close button and you return to Flipboard. It's completely seamless and it combines the convenience of the app container with the ubiquity of the browser that Allard alluded to.
What's more, Flipboard has found ways to integrate with social apps like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. So there's integration happening between the app and other services. Sure, there could be more, but this is a fairly new app and I predict you will see more integration over time.
As I stated last week, and I believe even more now after watching how I personally interact with mobile devices, when you design an app to connect to the browser and other apps (using open APIs), you can create something that's truly useful to users.
As developers, religious arguments over using a browser or an app don't get you very far. In the end, it's about creating the best experience possible for users. Applications like Flipboard show it's possible to have the best of both worlds when you put design first.
Photo by Jorge Quinteros on Flickr. Used under Creative Common License.