Native apps could be temporary option until HTML5 improves, panel says

Native apps could be temporary option until HTML5 improves, panel says

Summary: We could be on the cusp of a shift away from native apps and going full-throttle towards the dominance of HTML5.


SAN FRANCISCO -- After Apple made changes to its in-app purchase policy for mobile apps earlier this year, there was a huge uproar.

But really, that might have just been the tip of the iceberg in a debate over what's better: native apps or those built for the browser in HTML5. Some digital news publishers think that the reign of native apps could be shortened considerably as HTML5 gains fans.

See alsoZTE's CEO: Windows smartphones set for comeback next year Magazine publishers divided over giving digital issues for free

"We've used HTML5 to step out of iTunes and back into the browser environment," said Rob Grimshaw, managing director of, at the Open Mobile Summit on Thursday.

Grimshaw described that when the Financial Times decided to go the HTML5 route, it was "something of a gamble" as "no one else has really been out there in this territory." But after four to five months of development, Grimshaw found that they came back with something that was nearly identical to the native app -- and in some aspects, even better.

"It opens up a whole new world," Grimsaw posited. "I don't think it's going to be very long before the wider developer community really gets its teeth into HTML5."

Steven Goh, CEO of mig33, self-touted as the "world's largest self-entertainment social services group," noted that about half of his site's traffic is web/HTML5-based.

"As a result of that, we're progressively consolidating our strategy around HTML5," Goh said, affirming that he believes that HTML5 is "becoming a viable option for the delvery of services."

Since the FT launched its HTML5 application in June, Grimshaw asserted that mobile traffic has increased by over 50 percent and almost one million people have visited the new web app -- but presumably still through the iPhone and iPad.

Nevertheless, he joked that that the Financial Times "discovered that the world outside of the app store isn't cold and desolate."

NPR senior vice president Kinsey Wilson pointed out that when an app is below the top 50 on iTunes, it's very easy to get lost in there.

"It may well be the case that apps are something of a temporary phase," Grimshaw predicted. "A lot of these things are going to come back into the browser."

New York Times Company chief technology officer Marc Frons explained that the debate between native apps and HTML5 is a business decision. Frons said there are many questions a company must ask when signing up with, for example, Apple's iTunes App Store, which gets 30 percent of the cut.

If a publisher can't justify that, Frons said, then with a little bit of development, it would be better just to go the HTML5 route.

However, don't expect the same from The New York Times just yet.

"The Times is nowhere near ready to do that, and we're pretty happy with the App Store, but we're also pretty happy with the website," Frons affirmed.

Another product that could be on the chopping block in the next few years? Adobe Flash.

Frons also argued that Adobe must have "seen the writing on the wall," especially with its new Adobe Edge flash-to-HTML5 conversion tool.

"We've made a conscious decision to move away from Flash," Frons explained, citing that like NPR, the NYT has been transitioning many of its interactive maps and other products to Javascript and HTML5.

Grimshaw was quick to point out that Flash is "not quite dead" as it is installed on nearly 100 percent of desktop browsers.

But mobile is still another story.

"We have made a great effort to pool all video to HTML5," Grimshaw said. "I do have a suspcition that the world is going in that direction."


Topics: Software Development, Hardware, Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Which HTML5 standard should they go with?

    Apple's HTML5 standard?

    Microsoft's HTML5 standard?

    Mozilla's HTML5 standard?
    • To many of these HTML5 fanatics

      A web page = an app.
      • RE: Native apps could be temporary option until HTML5 improves, panel says

        Nm... I didn't notice your headline change.
  • The problem with HTML ...

    ... is that it keeps playing catch up to what native apps can do. Therefore publishers whose apps are developed using native code, will always have a user experience and technical advantage over HTML apps. (Besides, the HTML 5 standard is many years away from being finalized, leaving opportunities for native apps to widen the technical gap between them and HTML apps.) Hopefully when Windows 8 comes out, the issue of avoiding app stores will be moot, because MS will have better publishing terms than Apple.
    P. Douglas
    • RE: Native apps could be temporary option until HTML5 improves, panel says

      @P. Douglas It depends on the situation. HTML 5 can't do everything that a native app can do, but it can do a lot and in many cases is the best choice. The cost to produce an HTML 5 app is generally much cheaper than creating a native app, and it's easier to drive traffic to your website than it is to your app in the app store.
      K B
      • You can do relatively ...

        @K B,

        ... simple apps in HTML 5 economically. Maybe some HTML 5 apps can be done more quickly than native apps, but those HTML 5 apps will likely be less sophisticated than their native app counterparts - though they may superficially resemble one another.

        As for driving people towards your apps: you can use web sites to drive people towards your apps. You can also use marketing - including search ads - to drive people towards your apps found in app stores. As far as I'm concerned, it is better you use marketing to make your apps take off and make some real money, rather than giving your stuff away for free, and be inherently limited in the amount of money you can make - from advertising.
        P. Douglas
      • drive traffic

        @K B

        I would say that the effort can be the same, I mean in the case of a mobile app, you can still have a website with details about the app and all the marketing that you do to a regular website.
    • RE: Native apps could be temporary option until HTML5 improves, panel says

      And the problem with apps is that you cannot hyperlink between them, nor can you hyperlink from a webpage to content published within an app. Also, apps will always require installation.
  • The Apple SDK is a pathetic joke

    It's so bad, it actually makes HTML5 look good. Only a fool would advocate developing non-trivial apps in HTML. Unfortunately, there a lot of fools out there.
  • RE: Native apps could be temporary option until HTML5 improves, panel says

    I develop both types of applications. In fact, we have a native code authoring system that produces HTML5 apps. Would I replace the native code app with HTML5/Javascript - I possibly could, but it would be slower and for development I need speed.<br><br>This is virtually the same debate theat occurred between assembler and hgh level languages - eventually high level languages won and virtually no-one uses assembler any more except in specific circumstances.<br><br>HTML 5/Javascript while it may not be as powerful, fast or functional as native code, provides platform independence (if you put in a lot of code to handle each browser's HTML/CSS/Javascript anomalies), provides extra security and allows for easy dstribution. The one thing it doesn't have is the ability to keep your code secure, which is fine for the open source hobbyists, but a little worrying for those of us who want our work to remain proprietary. Direct access to the computer is also a problem for the developer, but the user will probably like the security.<br><br>I've produced interactive eLearning for Windows for over 20 years, so it's nice to be able to produce it for any platform - well except the iPad, since Apple persists in not implementing autoplay in HTML5 so you are forced to use their development system.<br><br>Just like assembler is still used for critical applicaitons, I think native code will hang around for those applications that require power and speed, but for HTML 5, the power of the hardware has finally made it usable.
  • RE: Native apps could be temporary option until HTML5 improves, panel says

    I think things are getting a little mixed up. One model is the app store model, where programmers can sell their applications rather than relying on just advertising. A separate model is the web site model, where functionality is usually free by advertising based. The appstore provides other benefits - trial apps, payment systems, local caching and access to device specific features.

    The technology these are written in is a separate issue altogether. Websites can only be written in HTML, whereas apps in the app store can be written in HTML/JS, Java (mostly), C++ (mostly), .NET (WP7/MonoTouch).

    The FT had an issue with the subscription pricing model that Apple imposed. But the FT is a publication and not really an 'application'. It's content. The argument doesn't really hold that web sites are better than apps for a user-experience.

    To reduce costs there will be more of a push to adopt HTML5 as a cross-platform programming framework for applications. But there are others (Unity for games, for example), MonoTouch etc... Bing recently released an app using this 'hybrid' approach. But this is purely cost driven. The app store model is here to stay.
  • Either way - Broken

    While I like the idea of HTML5 over apps, I somehow get the feeling there is ALWAYS going to be ***-for-tat issues where one platform allows this and another allows that....<br><br>Without an agreed upon set of standards that all agree to follow and allow, it will never be completely cross platform.<br>Unfortunate.<br><br>My biggest current pet peeve: on iOS having to somehow know I have to use an app because the web page will not display or not show all content. :(