I think Apple may really have gotten something right with the iPhone. I'm not talking about the operating system, the form factor, or even the exclusivity nonsense. I'm talking about the "App."
Surfing the web via your mobile device is clunky at best. Considering that 3G is only a few years old and not as widely available as the wireless companies would have you think, many of us simply don't use "the mobile web" because, frankly, it sucks. Heck, half the time when I fire up my mobile browser it doesn't work and I have to cycle my radios off then back on (the easiest way is to go into airplane mode then back out). Once I do have a signal I have to wait. Then I have to wait. Then I wait some more. On top of not having 3G coverage where I live and work, the functionality of the browser is a tap-and-wait proposition anyway.
With the iPhone, Apple introduced application support or "apps." This is not a new concept. Windows mobile, Blackberry and Palm devices have been running applications for years. I have "apps" for grocery lists, tip calculators, workout trackers, and many other functions. Like an Eskimo slaying a caribou, though, Apple iPhone apps use the whole phone. They use the phone, the processor, the GPS and even the web.
After the iPhone was introduced, some Windows Mobile developers started thinking outside the box. Want to know what my most useful app is on my phone? Facebook. Yep, something that allows me to reach out and touch the web without using my browser. I can do with it in 15 seconds what it would take me two minutes to do with my mobile browser.
But the concept hasn't stopped with Apple and iPhone developers. Companies are seeing the benefit of having an app on a mobile platform. With increasing frequency I am seeing commercials on TV or banner ads on the web telling me to "download our app." For the company, having an app means increased mobile interaction and easier programming for them. Think about it. Would you rather develop an app that gives mobile users the functionality available via the web in a proper form factor or duplicate your effort in developing and maintaining a mobile version of your web site? Think of all the browser detection you don't have to do. (Browser detection doesn't always work, by the way. The browser on my phone does not identify itself as a mobile browser so I often don't get shunted to the mobile version of a web page - increasing load times and sometimes decreasing usability.)
I imagine a world where the web browser, not the focused application, is the novelty of the mobile industry. Just like the Macintosh and the iPod, mobile apps are the wave of the future.