Saturday, September 10, 2011

HTML5 vs Native Apps

The mobile world is split today into mobile apps and the mobile web. With some 400,000 apps available on the iTunes App Store today alone, it appears that native mobile apps are the preferred way of user experience on mobile devices. It might, however, not stay that way when HTML5 becomes widely adopted. Or will it?

The HTML5 standard - developed jointly by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) - is currently being heralded as the panacea for all problems ranging from the current limitations of browser-based applications to the support of mobile devices. Many developers - and by that I mean software companies of the likes of Microsoft - use HTML5 as the magical answer for all questions related to mobility. “What’s your platform strategy for your mobile apps”? “HTML5”! 

Is it really going to be that easy?

HTML5-based LinkedIn
HTML5 promises many improvements including better handling of video, semantic elements and offline data support - all able to greatly advance the capabilities of web applications. From the user experience standpoint, it allows building sophisticated and appealing web applications - just check out the recently released mobile apps for LinkedIn or Vudu.

One of the greatest challenges in the development of mobile applications is the great variety of operating systems and types the mobile devices that a developer has to support. Even though the list got shorter since the demise of Symbian and webOS, the developers need to consider more than just supporting the top two leaders, iOS and Android, with BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 duking it out for the 3rd place.

Besides the fact that even the iOS and Android operating systems come in different flavors that may force developers to build multiple versions of their apps (i.e. iPhone vs iPad and the already numerous Android derivatives), the better apps also want to take full advantage of the hardware capabilities of the device. The obvious differences are the screen size and resolution. Going forward, however, the device manufacturers will increasingly compete with each other by adding many more device capabilities.

Already today, some devices have a front facing camera, rear facing camera, keyboard, accelerometer, GPS chip, USB port, memory card slots, and Bluetooth communication. In the near future, we can expect many more capabilities including near field communication (NFC) sensor, proximity sensor, biometric sensor, temperature sensor, and distance meters which are surely important for all golfers, right? The successful apps will have to take advantage of these capabilities and since every device is different, they will need to exist in multiple versions.

Could HMTL5 add support for such hardware features? No, HTML5 is probably not going to fix this problem. It is very unlikely to expect that the HTML5 standard could evolve to cover all such device specific innovations and even if it did, it wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace of innovation. Yes, there will be successful apps and services that will make it big without using the device-specific hardware capabilities. But many apps will want to take advantage of everything the device has to offer and such apps will need to exist in multiple versions. And the native apps approach will be the only way to build such apps in the foreseeable future.


  1. The big innovation is the hybrid app. Systems such as allow developers to use their HTML 5 knowledge to build and share large portions (if not all) of their application across multiple platforms, while the phonegap api grants an abstracted javascript based interface to the lower level hardware such as cameras, GPS, accelerometer, etc. You simply then compile for the different platforms!

  2. Financial Times did a very great job with their HTML5 app and it's just the v1 release:

    For news HTML5 is for sure quite enough.

  3. Native apps definitely enjoy an architectural advantage in security, as they do not need to connect with the network as frequently as Web apps and, in some cases, skip the process altogether.Thanks a lot.

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