Should your next mobile app be an HTML5 web app?

Summary:Building a smartphone app - should your developers be going HTML5 or native?

Building a smartphone app - should your developers be going HTML5 or native?


HTML5: The future of mobile apps?Photo: W3C

If your organisation is still getting to grips with smartphone apps it may be in for a shock - an even newer class of app is bearing down, one which promises to cut multi-platform development hassles and hurdle compatibility issues. Say hello to the HTML5 mobile web app.

HTML5 is the newest specification of the software code that web pages are created in. It adds rich functionality to browsers - so it's goodbye annoying plug-ins, hello natively streaming audio/video and more. This new specification turns the browser into a rich runtime environment, meaning web apps running within a browser can effectively match the functionality of, and even replace, native mobile apps.

"It's an inevitable trend," says Nick Dillon, analyst at Ovum. "We're going to see much more stuff moving to web apps, and away from the native mobile apps which we've had of late. It's a natural evolution.

"There's an obvious parallel with looking at the PC desktop world in the way that pretty much everything now is going to web apps and online, and all the advantages and all the reasons behind those moves are going to be largely similar to the motivations in the mobile world."

There are several big potential advantages - in the words of Dominic Shine, CIO at events organiser Reed Exhibitions (RX): "The promise of HTML5 is to provide a more generic approach to developing mobile apps that will work across all platforms without the cost and complexity of creating and maintaining apps for iPhone, iPad, Android phone, Android tablet, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile."

The hassle of maintaining mobile apps across multiple platforms is all too often a recipe for buggy apps and development headaches, and the high cost of developing apps often means companies have to limit the number of mobile platforms they develop for - excluding any customers who use devices on alternative platforms.

Companies also have to tackle the app store factor - which can mean finicky rules, revenue slicing and hoop jumping that can delay or reduce the effectiveness, fiscal and otherwise, of apps distributed via official stores. As Ovum's Dillon notes: "If you want to do an app on the iPhone there's one route to market and Apple sets the terms."

Little wonder there is appetite for another way to make, maintain and monetise mobile apps. HTML5's promise is to streamline and simplify the business of developing and maintaining mobile apps. It also holds out the hope of giving back control to the app creator. But can it live up to all this hype?

The FT's HTML5 web app - more popular than its native iOS app

Newspaper group the Financial Times launched a web app for iOS devices this June - encouraging users of its existing iOS app to switch to the web version as it would no longer be updating its native iOS app.

The new web app has proved to be more popular than the FT's native iOS app, according to the paper, with more than 700,000 people tapping into it.

The FT says its new web app is...

Topics: Mobility

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