Google AdWords advertisers can now include mobile app download links in search ads. Publishers of native Android and iOS apps will likely be thrilled.
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Google has introduced a new way for its advertisers to promote native mobile apps, a move that underscores the crisis of faith among boosters of the Web as a platform.
AdWords advertisers now have the option to use the Mobile App ad extension, which allows a mobile app download link to be added to search ads delivered on mobile devices. Clicking on the link takes the user to the appropriate mobile app store so the app can be purchased and then installed directly onto the user's mobile phone. The extension serves links that are platform-appropriate, so download links for iOS apps will be shown on iOS devices and download links for Android apps will be shown on Android devices.
Publishers of native Android and iOS apps are likely to be thrilled: Anything that reduces the friction of discovering and downloading mobile apps makes a tough business a bit easier. Mobile app developers have tended to avoid search advertising because it hasn't driven downloads as effectively as other options, like mobile marketing services that allow app makers to pay for installation. But a year ago, Apple disallowed pay-per-install app promotions for iOS apps, so a legitimate way to drive downloads using mobile ads could prove popular.
For the past few years, Google has been one of the loudest supporters of Web apps, having even gone so far as to proclaim "the Web has won." And why not? The company made its name in Web search and advertising.
But the success of Apple, first with its iOS App Store and then with its Mac App Store; the more recent rise of Google's own Android operating system; and Microsoft's move to turn Windows 8 into an app ecosystem have left Web app advocates wondering whether Google now sees the Web as a second-class platform.
In a comment on a Google+ discussion thread last month, Google Web developer Paul Irish gave voice to the doubts among those working with Web technology. "Native apps are eating our lunch," he wrote. "And we're spending hours arguing about syntax."
Web developer Michael Mahemoff assembled a presentation that summarizes the challenges facing Web developers at a time when so much attention is devoted to mobile apps. It notes that Facebook declared 2011 to be about HTML5 and mobile, then proceeded to drop $1 billion on native photo app Instagram.
Web development can be expected to lag behind native development until such time as hardware runs on Web technology. So far, Google's Chrome OS and Chromebooks show no sign of dethroning the major commercial desktop or mobile operating systems. But perhaps Mozilla, with its B2G project can turn things around with an open phone.
Until then, the Web at least can help companies promote their native mobile apps.
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