I went to FOWD last week in London where the brilliant Josh Clark made some mobile observations.

Josh openly debated the pros and cons of ‘native apps’ and the ‘mobile web’ — in a lot of cases an appropriately presented website wins. Here’s why.

Leaving gaming apps aside that make perfect sense to run natively for obvious reasons, ‘web apps’ are often perfectly capable of offering a great mobile experience. This makes sense when you draw from Ethan Marcotte‘s ‘Responsive Web Designer’ talk in which he covered CSS methods, flexible grids and images to provide a single destination that responds to the device the individual is using.

So by way of example, look at the AutoGlass mobile optimised website versus their app. What does their app offer over the web experience in this scenario?

To my mind, a ‘responsive’ website seems to make a lot more sense than encouraging people to go out their way to download a dedicated app or even to re-direct them to a seperate m. subdomain. It seems that today’s mobile web browsers aren’t being taken seriously (Do I need to mention HTML5 and CSS3? — technologies that give us locative capabilities and more). You can read Ethan’s A List Apart article on the the responsive web design topic here.

The word “App” has become somewhat of a buzzword. The constant bombardment of app-related marketing seems to have ingrained in us an ‘app culture’ since the explosion of Apple’s App Store. Every mobile platform seems to have jumped on the bandwagon, even Chrome as a web app store — but herein lies the problem.

Unless company x provides a great app experience that meets expectations on each individual’s chosen device, they risk leaving a proportion of their audience out in the cold.

I’d hedge a bet and say iOS is targeted most, and as a result I would imagine company x ends up spending their money, time and resources on just one platform. What I’m trying to say is: the web is universally accessible. Native apps are not.

This begs the question: Why make both?

Sometimes I think we seem to see our apps as “show-off-pins”. They act as pin badges — you show off your favourite apps to your friends just as teenagers pin up movie posters on their walls. They’ve become little digital fashion accessories for your phone, showing allegiances to the brands you care about.

Take a look at my quick responsive experiment here.