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Chrome Notifications, “The Physical Web” And Google’s War On Apps
Browser notifications a potential game changer for the mobile web -- and Google.
From day one Google has hated apps. It grudgingly built them because the iPhone and the culture of smartphones forced the company to. Now with Chrome notifications it has taken a very self-conscious step toward making apps less “essential.”
In a press meeting several years ago then Google Android boss Vic Gundotra and publisher/pundit Tim O’Reilly confidently but incorrectly predicted that apps would yield to the mobile web in a relatively short time.
Instead what we have today is a situation where users spend 60 percent of their digital media time with mobile devices (mostly smartphones) and almost 90 percent of that in apps. The mobile web has greater reach than most apps; but in terms of time spent it’s marginal.
Google doesn’t like this for obvious reasons.
Although it has several popular apps, Google is not the star of the mobile internet. Its relatively stable gatekeeping role on the PC has been replaced with an ongoing push to maintain mobile attention and usage. (On yesterday’s earnings call Google CFO Patrick Pichette said that the company is seeing “great momentum” in mobile search and mobile revenue.)
Make no mistake mobile search is widely used on smartphones and Google is dominant. But its position is not as central to mobile users. So-called navigational searches (not directions) and many types of category searches (e.g., restaurants, hotels) are diminished in mobile. People often go directly to relevant apps, without searching.
This is where Google’s “Physical Web” and Chrome notifications come in. The Physical Web project has declared war on apps:
The Physical Web is an approach to unleash the core superpower of the web: interaction on demand. People should be able to walk up to any smart device – a vending machine, a poster, a toy, a bus stop, a rental car – and not have to download an app first. Everything should be just a tap away.
The Physical Web is not shipping yet nor is it a Google product. This is an early-stage experimental project and we’re developing it out in the open as we do all things related to the web. This should only be of interest to developers looking to test out this feature and provide us feedback.
The number of smart devices is going to explode, and the assumption that each new device will require its own application just isn’t realistic. We need a system that lets anyone interact with any device at any time. The Physical Web isn’t about replacing native apps: it’s about enabling interaction when native apps just aren’t practical.
There’s a good deal of truth in this manifesto. But it’s also highly self-interested.
Google has always used the language of “openness” to promote its own initiatives and interests. Recall the “open” Android platform vs. the “closed” iOS ecosystem. However, as time has gone on, Android and Google have emulated Apple’s “top down control” more and more. Indeed Google is in hot water over Android in Europe because of alleged tying requirements.
Chrome notifications are very significant for developers and publishers — and for search. Most retailers, developers and publishers are struggling for user acquisition and retention when it comes to apps. Engagement tools like location-based notifications simply weren’t available on the mobile web, until now.
Browser-based notifications are potentially a game changer for marketers and remove friction from user-brand/retailer interaction on the go. It’s fairly clear that beacons and proximity marketing are on the roadmap and one of the targets of this move.
Previously in order to make beacons and indoor location work you needed an app or access to a third party app installed on the handset. Browser notifications could eliminate that requirement and make proximity marketing much more widely accessible to retailers and other types of merchants that don’t have apps on user smartphones.
The mobile friendly algorithm update, Chrome’s new “add to homescreen,” Chrome browser notifications and app indexing all are intended to reinvigorate the mobile web and with it reinsert Google into the center of the mobile internet experience. Indeed, the more utility and value Google creates for users the more it reinforces usage and generates revenue growth.
Overall the more app-like functionality that can be transferred to the mobile web — and the more “mobile friendly” websites become — the less apps are necessary.