It seems that many of the iOS apps are simply front-ends to web content – web content that shows up perfectly well in Mobile Safari. For example, one of my local newspapers, the Detroit News, has a free app for accessing their site – but they have a mobile-optimized site as well, which you are directed to automatically with a mobile browser. So I only need a bookmark to detnews.com with my desktop Safari, and that bookmark is synced to my iPhone and takes me to the mobile site when I'm on the phone. It's still the same content.
So why would I want to take up extra space on my iPhone with an app that does pretty much the same thing? I used it a few times, then removed it from my phone (I still have it in iTunes in case I change my mind). Even with a slightly nicer front end, the app doesn't make a compelling enough case to stay on my iPhone.
Of course, that's not true of all sites. Look at the pre-loaded YouTube app. It's much easier to navigate and watch video with the app than it is going direct to the site in Mobile Safari. I find that the free IMDb (Internet Movie Database) is the same way – it provides a compelling reason to stay on my phone, because it does an excellent job of presenting the information in a better format than the web site.
When you're talking free apps, it's not that big a deal – if the app doesn't take up much space, you might decide to hang onto it even if it's not that much of an improvement of the web site. But when the apps start to cost money, then you need to think about it more. One app that comes to mind is Pennant ($4.99). Pennant has a very swoopy interface that will show you every major league baseball game play-by-play and stat since 1951. The interface makes full use of the touch screen. But It's certainly not for me. If you check out the video, you'll see at one point a game gone over, each play, one at a time. But you have to keep scrolling around a big wheel to see each play. For free, I can go to baseball-reference.com and get all those stats and more. Sure, the interface is much less fancy – but it provides nice, sortable tables of information – I don't have to scroll around just to move from play to play. It's almost as if much of the interface was done just because they could. That's not to say it's not a very nice piece of programming – it is. The design and programming I'm sure took a lot of careful thought and time. Some folks are probably wowed by it, but I find the presentation of the information cumbersome (at least what I see in the video – I'm not willing to shell out $5 to see if it's better in real life).
So while it's nice to gussy-up some of the info on the web, there are times when it's overkill, at least to me. Are there apps you've gotten rid of because they didn't give you any real value over the original web site? What about apps that you think are worthwhile over just visiting the web site directly?