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Brand Perfect online panel: Web vs Apps

 

No one is likely to say that there isn’t space for both websites and apps in our lives, but the question of what separates the two of them is being asked with increasing frequency. What things does the web do well that apps can only hope to emulate badly, and vice versa?

Since the advent of the iPhone, smartphones have generally favoured an app ecosystem over the web. Even those with established user-centric sites are changing tack. Witness Facebook’s new App Store, or LeapFrog, the children’s educational brand, announcing that it will close its online LeapWorld site this month to invest more resources into its app marketplace. A response, according to the brand, to customer feedback.

Are such changes due to technical innovations, the growth of the smartphone market and a fundamental change in people’s relationship with their personal technology, or are brands overlooking the mobile web at their peril?

We’ve invited a panel who have given the causes of all this change a bit more thought than most to field questions from ‘the floor’, in the first of what will be our regular online discussions.

Our panellists are NET-A-PORTER’s Group Mobile Manager Sarah Watson and shoring up the tech end of the discussion is Pascal Auberson, owner and Technical Director of Specialmoves, one of London’s premiere creative technology companies, whose recent work includes development for Kaiser Chiefs, Nokia and Smirnoff.

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  • Neil Ayres said: Thanks everyone for stopping by. We're joined here by Sarah Watson from NET-A-PORTER and Specialmoves' Pascal Auberson. Darin from Sony sends his apologies. He's tied up with something this morning, but should be dropping by in a couple of hours, and we're still waiting on Dennis from Monotype to sign in, so let's kick things off regardless. Sarah; Pascal, do you both just want to introduce yourselves to everyone and give us a brief overview of some of your recent web or app projects.
    ~ 870 days ago, Report this comment
  • Neil Ayres said: In the meantime, allow me to entertain you with some modern dance.
    ~ 870 days ago, Report this comment
  • Sarah Watson said: Hello, I'm Sarah Watson, Group Mobile Manager for NET-A-PORTER.COM. Our most recent app projects have included the latest NET-A-PORTER app for iPhone and Android – a native app that offers a fast, easy and engaging shopping experience – and The MR PORTER Suit Yourself app. An iPhone app that lets users create bespoke "Suits" using our specially created outfit builder technology!
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Neil Ayres said: I should also say, as someone who's spent the last couple of weeks immersed in mobile site creation, NET-A-PORTER also have a rather lovely mobile website. These things are few and far between, so they should definitely be commended on this. Sarah, can you explain the difference in the experience between using one of the apps as opposed to the mobile site, and why those distinctions have been made?.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Pascal Auberson said: Hi, i'm Pascal Auberson, Founder & Technical Director of specialmoves. We've recently completed a collaboration with Usman Haque called DIY City (http://bit.ly/Noyswn). The video gets it across better but very briefly it allowed people to create graphics using a mobile web app and add them to the walls of our courtyard. We're also the build agency for rolex.com so that keeps us fairly busy. Recently we updated the desktop and mobile sites to more closely align with their latest advertising campaign.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Neil Ayres said: Thanks, Pascal. Interesting to hear how the sites have been driven by the advertising. Is this how most of the web development is driven, in response to their campaigns, or is this a first?
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Neil Ayres said: And while we wait for Pascal and Sarah to think about that, any thoughts from the rest of you on the distinctions between the traditional web and apps? I'm looking @Katrina specifically here.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Sarah Watson said: Glad you like it Neil! Our apps offer our customers streamlined experiences that are optimised specifically for certain user actions – for instance the NET-A-PORTER app for iPhone and Android enables customers to browse and view products a lot quicker than via the web and the NET-A-PORTER Magazine app for iPad is tailored for users to browse and shop our editorial content. Ultimately we want to create a streamlined shopping experience for our customers, across all Smartphone devices, and our mobile website gives us the opportunity to do this.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Pascal Auberson said: A lot of site updates are either connected to product releases or major changes in advertising. When all the print ads suddenly look completely different to the website, there's a bit of a disconnect. So site updates are often coordinated with advertising.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Marc George said: Hi. This is a question for Pascal. I was interested to see you'd opted for a mobile web app with DIY city. Was that just for handset compatibility & speed of development or do you have a general preference for mobile web over native?
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Zosia Swidlicka said: Re distinctions between the traditional web and apps - where I think apps are falling behind at the moment is the lack of any design tradition. Many are following the same templates. Would be good to see this area expand over the next couple of years.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Neil Ayres said: It's obvious even from these brief examples that NET-A-PORTER and Rolex are doing this stuff well, but most brands are way behind when it comes to mobile. Pascal, as someone that works with other brands, any insight into why this is? Do people like Rolex and NET-A-PORTER simply need to be working like this to meet their customers' expectations, or do you think there are other reasons they're ahead of the game here, thinking about mobile in particular?
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Julie Strawson said: Great point Pascal and to Sarah's point about creating a seamless Smartphone experience too, I wonder will that experience dovetail elegantly with the NET-A-PORTER desktop experience?
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Sarah Watson said: This discrepancy between mobile web, app and desktop experience is one of the primary reasons we find an in-house mobile team works to our advantage. We can be very reactive to changes/updates happening on the website and ensure that they are carried across, where relevant, to our apps and mobile sites.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Rachel Felwick said: I'd be interested to know from Pascal and Sarah: How are brands managing to build in long-term user engagement (and brand loyalty) into mobile app development?
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Katrina Dodd said: The difference between the traditional web and apps... I'm speaking more as a user, here, to be honest, but I always feel that I look to apps to do quite specific things and to do them well and expediently. People adapt quickly to shortcuts, especially when they're using smartphone screens (as opposed to tablets). Much as I love to pinch and pull on my iPhone, I will try to avoid using Safari because it's just more of a faff than tapping a single button to access content or information that I want to check out.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Neil Ayres said: See, I disagree to some extent with Katrina here. I'm much happier searching for someothing online on my phone rather than wading through hordes of apps. The sooner wifi is ubiquitous (and free), the better for me.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Pascal Auberson said: For DIY City it was for speed (we did the whole thing from scratch in 2 weeks) and that we didn't want to force people though an app store to be able to participate which is important for a live event. Overall we don't have a preference for native or mobile web, it just about weighing up which is the most appropriate for the circumstances.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Neil Ayres said: So Sarah, you don't use any external agencies. All NET-A-PORTER's work, both design and development, is produced in-house? Has it ever been thus?
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Katrina Dodd said: I think Pascal is bang on about creating what is most appropriate for specific circumstances. And I think what's interesting about creating effective apps of any kind is how quickly they become habit forming to users who appreciate the certainty and speed with which they deliver the content or info they are seeking.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Sarah Watson said: Sorry for my previous entry - hit the "Submit comment" button too many times! Rachel - Our main focus is on creating a seamless brand experience from one platform to the next. We want to enable our customers to interact and engage with our brand across multiple devices, which in our eyes, leads the way to stronger brand loyalty. We use the different user-experiences of mobile web, app and desktop to engage our customers with new products and experiences.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Pascal Auberson said: Rachel, I think while there's a barrier in downloading an app, once the user has (and it's good) the brand is in a better position that if someone has just saved your mobile web site to their home screen. Having an update mechanism via the app store helps push new features. But also if the mobile app has regular exclusive content or simply an easier-to-use interface, users are more likely to return.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Neil Ayres said: Just to say everyone, Dennis Dimos is now joining us too. Dennis is Monotype's Creative Director, and has recently been busy working away on the relaunch of fonts.com, so if you've any questions from the design side of the fence, he's your man.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Sarah Watson said: Pascal - NET-A-PORTER.COM was the first luxury fashion retailer to launch an iPhone app back in 2009. At the time we used a combination of in-house developers and external iOS experts. Since then we have grown and nurtured our in-house talent so we now have a highly efficient internal mobile team.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Julie Strawson said: Sarah, are a=you able to talk about how you structure your projects internally? What advantages does NET-A-PORTER see working this way gives it over working with external agencies?
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Neil Ayres said: Cripes, that was a quick hour. Any questions from the floor before we thank Sarah and Pascal for their time. I can't imagine everyone has all afternoon to sit here yakking, as much fun as it's been.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Sarah Watson said: Hi Julie – The main advantage for us is that we can be very reactive. Our designers, developers and testers sit alongside one-another so we can move from concept to creation very quickly.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Andrew Sawyer said: @Pascal and Sarah, before you leave I just wanted to ask what projects you are currently working on?
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Julie Strawson said: Thanks Sarah, yes, I think that's the key and to Zosia's comment above I couldn't agree more that it's so tedious to see every supermarket using the same mobile template. When we designed brandperfect.org we started with the grid and the reading experience on every platform. Where would you start Zosia?
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Neil Ayres said: Well, that's the live bit done with, but you're of course free to keep the conversation going right here. Thanks for everyone who took part and followed the conversation. Looking forward to seeing you back here again soon.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Fran Taylor said: Thanks to everyone for their comments! It makes a really interesting read, particularly how at NET-A-PORTER you manage your different platforms in house. At the British Library we work with a large number of start-ups and SMEs with limited resources - obviously it depends on their sector, but it's interesting to think about where they should focus their efforts when they have limited time and money to spend.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Zosia Swidlicka said: @Julie thanks for your reply. It would be nice to see some new templates, structures and most of all different kinds of type! It seems to be the same font on all apps!
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
  • Dan Rhatigan said: Instapaper and Readability are two great examples of apps that use non-system fonts to excellent effect. In both cases, they really embrace the potential benefits of typographic sophistication to improve the reading experience. IA Writer is another good example.
    ~ 869 days ago, Report this comment
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