I’ve noticed a recent trend on the web — or at least, on the parts of it I’ve visited. Maybe you’ve noticed it too.

Here’s what happens: you’re on a website, and one of these little prompts pops up.

Message at the bottom of a webpage reads “Get the best Caviar experience: Get the app.” Two buttons beneath the message link to their app on the Apple or Android app stores.

These prompts let you know that there’s an app, and that the website you’re on…well, it’s not quite the app, is it?

Message at the bottom of a webpage reads “Twitter is better on the app. Never miss a tweet. Open this in the Twitter app to get the full experience.” Two buttons underneath read “Not now” and “Switch to the app.”

Maybe you should check out the app.

Message at the bottom of a webpage reads “Use our app and enjoy its benefits and features.” Below the message is a big black button that reads “Continue with the app.” A close button appears in the top right corner.

The app does sound pretty great.

Blue button floats at the bottom of a web page, saying “Get the Tumblr app.”

These little suggestions tend to be what I notice first on a website.

Banner with a big blue “Install” button appears at the bottom of a web page. It reads, “Get the Google app and add the widget to your home screen.”

Sometimes the alert takes over the entire page, so I can’t help but notice it.

The Etsy homepage is covered with a message prompting me to choose between downloading their app, or continuing to their mobile website.

Sometimes the alert will let me know about the app twice in a row. (I see this quite a lot.)

A blue button on a web page reads “Open in the Yelp app.” A popup banner beneath the button also prompts you to download the Yelp for iPhone app.

I always close these alerts, because I rarely install apps.

A banner appears at the bottom of a webpage, titled “View CBS News In.” Two options appear below: The CBS News App, or Safari.

I do realize that makes me a bit of an outlier. But I close these prompts because, well, I’m already on the website. And it tends to work just fine.

Blue banner with the Vimeo logo appears at the bottom of a web page, saying “Watch it in our app.”

But not always. Sometimes, the website wants me to install the app — no, it needs me to install the app. It’s like a paywall, but for apps. An appwall.

A popup window titled “Continue in App” appears, with a big red exclamation mark icon at the top. The window says “Vote, join discussions, communities. Download the Reddit app and login for a better experience.” I can press a blue button that says “Continue in app”, or I can return to the page of Popular Posts.

Basically, I’m locked out of the website unless I stop what I’m doing, download their native application, and then use it to open the same content I was just trying to read.

I never do this. (But again, I’m probably an outlier.)


I want to pause here: I’m not railing against apps as such. I use plenty of native applications on my phone, on my tablet, and, yes, on my laptop. (I bet you do too.) But in recent years, these prompts have gotten more prominent, and occasionally impassable. And I think that trend’s interesting. Why would a company promote a native app over their perfectly usable website?

We’d have to ask them, I suppose. But it’s hard not to see this push to native as a matter of priorities: that these companies consider native applications worthy of their limited time, resources, and money. They’re a worthy investment, to hear these banners tell it. And I can understand that. After all, the overwhelming majority of digital advertising revenue goes to just two companies. (Or three.) Given that, I could see why a digital organization might search for revenue streams less reliant on display advertising.

Five screenshots from the iOS App Store, showing the data collected by apps from Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, and WordPress.

Maybe those revenue streams rely on collecting other kinds of data about you when you’re using their app.

I’m not suggesting that’s everyone’s motivation, mind. As Šime notes, there are technical drivers for some companies. Their businesses might require access to certain features that are only accessible to native applications. But whatever the motives, that doesn’t mean these app prompts are a good experience. When responsive design first became a thing, mobile websites were peppered with links to “the full website”…which invariably contained the content or features you actually wanted to access on your mobile device. In practice, this encouraged product teams to adopt device-specific design methods: features weren’t deployed to people, but to specific types of devices.

By and large, these app prompts feel like fancier versions of that old pattern. And when new product features are built on the native experience, I think it’s illuminating when they don’t make it back to the web.

The screenshot on the left shows a page on Instagram’s website, which says “Sorry, this page isn’t available. The link you followed maybe broken, or the page may have been removed.” The screenshot on the right side of the page on Twitter's website, which says “Oops, let’s get you back to the right place. Join the space in the Twitter app.”

It feels like a glimpse into that company’s design priorities. And it’s possibly providing us with insight into the business value they place on the open web — a medium that’s meant to be accessible everywhere, on any screen, on any device.

And it really does feel like these glimpses are becoming more common.