The GMail mobile web application responds as quickly as the GMail mobile client app for Android. The keyboard shortcuts are identical. The interfaces are quite nearly indistinguishable and both cache messages offline intelligently. Functionally, the two apps are twins – a testament to the rapid evolution of HTML5.

If the technologies both achieve the same outcome, which should a developer use? The technology that provides greatest distribution to customers at the lowest cost and highest profit. Is that web or app?

Today, the answer on Apple’s platform is the application. iTunes serves 150M+ users, the majority of whom have tied credit cards to their accounts. Large distribution plus easy payment is very attractive – enticing enough to ignore the 30% tax on transactions. Facebook offers a similar value proposition. 

On Android, the answer is less apparent. The Android market may serve a similar number of users but relative to iTunes, Android is underdeveloped. Payment mechanisms function in fewer geographies and ask users walk through more steps to transact, reducing conversion rates and ultimately revenue. The app store doesn’t seem to be actively managed.

In addition to these complexities, there is not one but three official app stores: Google, Amazon and Verizon as well as tens of web based alternatives. With this decentralized approach, there will be some market confusion as consumers grapple with reconciling the various outlets. However, the distributed nature of app stores likely means more competition for paid distribution and payment technologies which imply lower fees.

I venture gaming will remain app focused because games generate sufficient revenues to pay for distribution and the payment tax while other applications, utility apps seeking less expensive distribution commensurate with decreased revenues.