Tech Industry

Mobile-only apps: No thanks

There's a world beyond mobile apps. The best apps work everywhere, on devices large and smal.

GroceryIQ does it right: You can put data in on the Web site and see it on the iPhone. Or the other way 'round.
Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

I love mobile apps as much as the next guy. But I have a rant here for a small number of mobile app developers: Please don't forget that your users also have real computers.

Mobile apps are great for a lot of things: Getting location-specific data, meeting up with friends, paying bills on the run, and consuming content. But setting up some of these mobile apps can be a painful task. So developers, please remember that if your app stores data in the "cloud," (as almost all apps do these days), then you can do your users a favor by allowing them to at least use the Web to set up their mobile app and to enter in any details that would make it work better when they're on the go.

At the best, why not give users a Web version of the app so they can blast through its activities when they are sitting in front of a big screen and a real keyboard?

To be fair, most apps do this. You can set up Mint on the Web and access your accounts on your mobile. Go for a run using RunKeeper and see your route after the fact on your PC. Interact with Grocery IQ on the Web and immediately see your changes on the iPhone app. Or use Wunderlist on a phone, a tablet, Windows, Mac, or a Web-only platform: It doesn't care, they all share data.

There are only a few apps I use frequently that don't have a Web component. The gas price tracker GasBag, for example, is app-only. Yes, its functionality is designed for mobile use, but there are activities you might want to do on a bigger screen. And before I started using Wunderlist, I was using the gorgeous (and expensive) to-do list manager, Things. I stopped because Things doesn't have a Web component and still doesn't have cloud-based sync (except in closed beta).

The small paradox I'll leave for developers is this: A mobile app can become more valuable to users when it has a strong non-mobile component. Noodle on that, and let's see more mobile/fixed/Web/anywhere applications, please.