How mobile web beats mobile apps – especially in Indonesia


We have constantly been hounded about how mobile apps are greater than the mobile web. Headlines often frequent our screens highlighting how mobile app usage is growing faster than the mobile web and how mobile apps can deliver to larger audiences than its web counterpart. 

If you look at mobile app research in a certain light, then you would be quite right to think that mobile app is winning. Research from Flurry in September 2015 stated that 90% of time on mobile is spent on apps (Flurry, 2015) and ComScore also conducted research in September of last year which presented mobile apps in favour.

However, a closer look at the statistics tell a different story. Morgan Stanley, a US-based financial services firm, counteracted ComScore’s research with a study which greatly highlights the role of mobile web usage. Morgan Stanley’s research shows that mobile browser audiences are in fact 2x larger than app audiences and have grown 1.2x faster over the past 3 years. They also found that most publishers will see the majority of their mobile traffic coming from mobile web browsers rather than apps, mainly through consumers being so selective about what apps they download.

Only 12 out of 50 of the top websites globally have app traffic larger than browser traffic, which include the likes of Snapchat, Twitter, Pandora and Instagram. This means that 38 of the top mobile websites see the majority of their traffic coming from mobile browsers, a startling piece of research from Morgan Stanley that has been kept under the radar.

Morgan Stanley mobile web research

Source: Morgan Stanley

From this, it is fair to conclude that consumers are spending the majority of their time inside apps which they have brand loyalty to or have downloaded for a specific purpose. For example, many of the 12 websites which are mostly accessed through app are based on ‘daily habits’ such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, The Weather Channel and Yahoo Finance or social media sites. On the other hand, retail sites show much higher browser traffic than app. In fact, many of the US’s retailers did not have enough app traffic to be measured.

Due to mobile users spending a large proportion of their time on apps which aid day-to-day life,  this has ultimately skewed the statistics in favour of apps, without taking into consideration how and when people use the mobile browser.

Mobile Web in Indonesia

The same trend can be seen across the world. Take Indonesia. It has one of the largest and fastest growing mobile markets and ranks 3rd globally for mobile web penetration (We Are Social, January 2016), with 75% of all webpages in Indonesia being served to mobile phones.  

Indonesians are clearly skipping the computer and laptop trend – only 15% of people own a laptop or desktop – and are diving straight into a mobile-first market, which opens up ample opportunities for mobile web browsing. Mobile internet is playing such a huge role in people’s lives in Indonesia that in April of last year Google launched their mobile-optimised pages to their Indonesian customers which gave them easier and much faster access to the mobile web.

We Are Social - Digital in 2016.

Source: We Are Social – Digital in 2016.

The popularity of mobile web browsing in Indonesia can also be shown through UC Browser owning a 55% market share and becoming the 2nd most downloaded app from the Android app store. Furthermore, e-commerce in Indonesia is rapidly growing, with digital retails sales growing over 65% in 2015 (eMarketer, 2015). More than 3 in 4 smartphone and tablet users admitted to using a smartphone to research a product before purchase – 8% above those who used desktop. It’s fair to say that researching a product is predominantly carried on a mobile browser rather than app, due to the ease of surfing various webpages which is key when finding out information on a product.  

This is not to say that apps aren’t used in Indonesia. Research from MoboMarket, an Android app store popularly used in Indonesia, found that the most popular search terms for app downloads are related to social media, gaming and photography, with app users carrying out a precise search for what they want. This is in line with Morgan Stanley’s research stating that app users have intent or a specific purpose for download. Social media (12% of apps downloaded) and gaming (44%) are areas where using an app is more effective.

However, consumers do not want to be downloading an app for areas out of the social media and gaming realms. Firstly, apps take up a lot of mobile storage space so people are limited to how many they can download. Secondly, apps are often bug-ridden, with many people complaining of them freezing and needing constant updates, which doesn’t bode well for customer retention. Thirdly, mobile browsers are easier to use for research and speedy browsing.

The mobile web browser has not been given the coverage it deserves and has been analysed completely out of context. The research from Morgan Stanley proves just how powerful the mobile web is. With emerging markets such as Indonesia becoming mobile-first markets, it’s important to note the difference between the usage of apps and mobile browsers in order to accurately understand the mobile user.

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