Ignore the hysteria: Mobile HTML5 apps can be good for business

December 19, 2012

It’s fair to say that it’s been a mixed year for HTML5.

Labelled by some as the panacea of mobile apps, the technology was used by Facebook and LinkedIn for their mobile apps and adopted by media giants the Financial Times and New York Times.

Responsive Design websites (which utilize HTML5 to run across desktop and mobile) came from Quartz and others, while Mozilla even rolled out an app store for web applications.

That was just the good news. Facebook has since moved away from the technology for its iOS and Android apps, with CEO Mark Zuckerburg stating the firm’s “biggest” mistake was “betting too much” on HTML5 (the billionaire did earlier say he was “long-term, really excited” about the technology).

Task manager app developer Wunderlist more recently came to the same decision for its native apps, while developer interest also appeared to taper off; an IDC/Appcelerator study suggesting developers were ‘neutral to dissatisfied’ on every feature of HTML5 bar the cross-platform functionality.

This, along with continued fragmentation issues, led some writers and industry observers to poo-poo the technology, a misguided and premature verdict in my opinion.

For an increasing number of “native” mobile apps on iOS and Android are now actually built on the HTML5 framework, to the extent where some native apps just have a native 'wrapper' to ensure entry to the App Store or Google Play.

Indeed, a study from cross-platform developer Kony earlier this year suggested 80% of all mobile apps will be wholly or in-part based on the technology by 2015.

In fact, it should be noted that wholly-based HTML5 mobile apps have improved greatly in 2012. Developers have found ways to offer native-like features like pinch-to-zoom, better touchscreen scrolling and hook in to cache local data, and while it could be arguably that HTML5 apps still lack the speed of their native rivals there are signs that more improvements will come in 2013.

“Through 2014, JavaScript performance will push HTML5 and the browser as a mainstream application developer environment,” noted Gartner recently. “There will be long shift to HTML5 from native apps as HTML5 becomes more capable.”

The next step of the evolution of the technology however lies with standardization, which is drawing closer now that the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) body has agreed to introduce HTML5 app definition with a view to standardizing the technology in 2014.

"As of today, businesses know what they can rely on for HTML5 in the coming years, and what their customers will demand,” said W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe. “Likewise, developers will know what skills to cultivate to reach smartphones, cars, televisions, eBooks, digital signs, and devices not yet known."

I think that these core HTML5 mobile apps will gain greater visibility in 2013, and this will really be driven by developers.

iPad presentation developer announced this week the Brainshark Mobile Player, a HTML5-based video player for viewing presentations on smartphones and tablets, while Sencha even revealed a ‘HTML5 is Ready’ competition with a $20,000 prize awaiting the winner of the best web app.

The latest research illustrates that developers are warming to HTML5. The Q4 IDC/Appcelerator study found 63% of developers were “very interested” in HTML5 apps – almost identical to interest in Android tablets —  while developer tools provider Kendo UI’s discovered in November that 94% of its respondents were “actively developing with HTML5, or plan to do so by the end of 2012”.

This might be down to familiarity with the technology and the cross-platform functionality, but there could be another factor here for business. Windows 8.

A number of industry professionals have told me recently that an increasing number of businesses will look to HTML5 to cover iOS, Android and Windows 8 now Microsoft's OS has launched, in order to save on app development costs (custom app development jobs usually start from $20,000).

So, don’t be fooled by the naysayers. HTML5 mobile apps will improve in 2013, and that can only be a good thing.


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