April 5, 2011, 11:08 AM

Tablet-owning consumers use sites more than apps? Seriously?

The buzz over apps is overshadowing the good old browser.

Lead Photo

Well you could’ve knocked me over with a feather.

According to new data from Forrester Research Inc., 39% of tablet owners spend more time using a tablet’s web browser than using the various apps they seek out and download. Meanwhile, a mere 16% say they spend more time using apps than the web browser. The rest use the two about evenly.

This data, the first of its kind on tablet use that I’ve seen since Apple Inc. debuted the game-changing iPad last April, came as a surprise to me. I guess because I’m among the 16%. I probably use apps on my iPad 90% of the time and the web browser 10%. I mean, aren’t apps what the iPad is all about? I guess not.

To me, apps—on tablets and smartphones—present a superior experience to the web because they are optimized to make full use of the device for which they are created. The app experience is a visual feast, and highly functional.

Whether its reading the New York Times, following folks on Twitter, buying movie tickets from Fandango or purchasing DVDs on Amazon.com, I’m using the app, not the site. The pages of the New York Times come vividly to life in its iPad app. No need for page refreshes or potentially slow page loads on the Twitter app, as is the case with all apps. And when the Twitter app does lead to a web site, it keeps the web experience within the app and lets you go back into the comfy world of app functionality with just one touch. Fandango’s app is filled with stunning posters and videos and is as smooth a ride as you could want. And Amazon makes things big, colorful and easy.

I believe one or two things are happening. First, tablets are really only as old as the iPad, which created the first significant demand for the form factor one year ago this month. Perhaps people have not explored the app stores much yet and instead are falling on the habit of using the Internet. And, second, many people seem to be buying tablets specifically as a replacement tool for Internet browsing when away from a desktop or find it simply more comfortable when on the couch (they sure present a more visually appealing experience than a laptop, and are easier to hold when sitting or reclining). One way or another, it seems the browser is the mode of choice in using the Internet on a tablet, not the app.

The lesson here is a simple one: Even if your customer base seems ripe for an app, you should consider optimizing your web site for use on tablets—namely the iPad for the time being—before you dive too deeply into creating an app. According to Forrester Research and Harris Interactive, 20% of U.S. consumers will own a tablet by 2014. That’s a lot of browsing on a lot of tablets.

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