Is the Mobile Pendulum Swinging From Apps to the Web?

The number of mobile-friendly websites is increasing faster than expected, according to the latest data from Taptu, a touch-focused mobile search company. Not only is the touch web growing, it’s growing at a faster rate than Apple’s iTunes App Store (s aapl), which currently has an annualized revenue rate of nearly a billion dollars.

Taptu forecast in December of last year that more than 500,000 touch-friendly websites would exist by the end of 2010. According to its latest count, there are 440,100 such sites — an annualized growth rate of 232 percent. In contrast, Apple’s iTunes App Store holds roughly 185,000 software titles, which translates into a 144 percent annual growth rate. Taptu now expects the number of touch-friendly websites to hit 1.1 million by year’s end.

Driving this trend is an increased availability of non-Apple touchscreen devices, a lack of a centralized application store for developers to contend with and the notion of the web as lowest common denominator. Indeed, the touchscreen is becoming a staple of the smartphone — a segment that’s expected to overtake feature phones before 2012 — which means companies and services that want to reach out to customers on the web need a finger-friendly interface. For while trackpads, optical sensors and trackballs on a phone can help, they typically offer a poor browsing experience by bouncing the user from link to link on mobile sites.

While developers have unquestionably flocked to the iPhone platform, creating applications for it requires far more coding knowledge than it takes to build a web site. That’s why Palm (s palm) devised its webOS application strategy around HTML, CSS and JavaScript just as the Symbian Foundation has done with Symbian 3 — the fewer barriers to development, the more fish in the development pool. More important than the ease of coding, however, is the universality of the mobile web. Developing an application for a specific platform like the iPhone only yields a return on that platform. Devoting resources to a web site delivers a product that’s available on most mobile devices.

It’s too early to see if this growth of touch-friendly websites will upset the Apple cart, as it were, but there’s potential for developers to refocus efforts on the web and away from platform-specific applications. Could we be returning to where it all started for the original iPhone — web-based applications on the handset?

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Image courtesy Flickr user calebunseth.