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Why The Mobile App Will Die

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andrei“Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Andrei Dunca, co-founder and chief technology officer at LiveRail.

Just a few years ago, consumers used numerous apps on their desktop computers, such as Winamp for music, Windows Media Player for watching videos and Thunderbird for email.

At the time, consumers interacted with desktop apps largely because browsers weren’t very advanced or powerful, or they lacked robust support for a scripting language and development libraries.

Eventually, as browsers grew stronger and faster, and as the underlying infrastructure for coding a webpage became more robust, apps increasingly moved from their place as native desktop apps to the browser. This shift enabled portability since developers were no longer required to build individual versions for Windows, OSX and every Linux flavor, which sped the time to market.

Today, consumers spend most of their time in a browser, which has become the real operating system for most widely used apps used for music, video, email, social and instant messaging.

I believe mobile will follow a similar trend within the next three years.

The Issue With Mobile

The current mobile app-development ecosystem is chaotic because most apps are native and not based on the browser provided by the mobile operating system. Developing an app in Objective-C for iOS is very different from programming in Java for Android. To make matters worse, Android is very fragmented, with frustrating differences between the various Android iterations. And frameworks that allow developers to program once and deploy on several different mobile operating systems don’t really work well for all uses.

Mobile app time to market is considerably slow and extremely expensive. Additionally, updates are triggered by the client and cannot be pushed by the app vendor. At any given moment, for example, several versions of the same app, including some with bugs or larger issues, can live on millions of devices, thus making support a huge pain point.

From the online advertising perspective, this status quo generated a whole new vertical, which shouldn’t even truly exist: mobile advertising. In reality, mobile advertising should just be one of the traditional advertising verticals, such as rich media, video or search, but in a different screen size and optimized for a mobile device. But because mobile advertising must work with native mobile apps, the mobile advertising technology often relies on platform-specific, vendor-proprietary software development kits. These SDKs generate a lot of integration friction and drastically slow the release cycles of mobile apps, making this space extremely inefficient.

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The Mobile Ad Solution

To counter these mobile ad inefficiencies, IAB, the organization overseeing current advertising standards, developed MRAID, a set of guidelines and standards for integrating mobile advertising SDKs into native mobile apps. However, not every mobile app or advertising SDK developer follows the guidelines and standards, leading to ever-present inconsistencies.

If the mobile app paradigm follows the same evolution as the desktop app – and it will, since hardware is getting more powerful, which mobile browsers will leverage – we’ll certainly witness a transition of native apps into mobile browser-based apps. This transition will eliminate all of the challenges and inefficiencies I described, and will finally streamline mobile advertising integrations and execution.

When that happens, mobile advertising will finally operate on the same well-known industry principles of desktop browser-based advertising. At that point, the industry will only talk about screen size, with advertising integration and execution that will be operating system-agnostic and portable.

So What?

This transition will carry serious implications for companies like Twitter. The company recently acquired MoPub for $350 million and is clearly betting big on mobile.

Within a few years, we will likely be in a place where browsers, such as Safari, Chrome and IE, will be the ultimate winners for advertising across devices.

Companies like MoPub, Millenial or Velti, which is already in trouble, will potentially be nothing more than an afterthought in the mobile ad space because there won’t be an industry for them anymore. Mobile ad networks may no longer be needed because mobile could be seen as just another screen.

Follow Andrei Dunca (@andreidunca), LiveRail (@LiveRail) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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