HTML5 now neck and neck with native apps for developer love

HTML5 now neck and neck with native apps for developer love

Summary: Developers are spending more time on HTML5 as the number of browsers and devices grows.


Native apps might deliver a supreme mobile experience, but the lure of HTML5 hybrid app building is growing among developers.

While HTML5 versus native apps debate rages on, more developers are willing to trade in a superior native experience for the lower cost of maintaining a common code base using HTML5 code in a native app container, according to analyst firm Forrester. 

"Mobile developers split their time almost evenly between native and web-based plus hybrid development," Forrester found in its Development Landscape 2013 report.

Based on responses from 478 developers in North America and Europe, Forrester found developers were spending 41 percent of the their time on a native app approach, 24 percent of their time on mobile web, and 22 percent of their time on hybrid apps.

The analyst expects developers of consumer-facing apps to lead with a native app approach, while those building enterprise apps will move toward web and hybrid deployments.

2013-08-28 12.13.41 pm
Image: Forrester

Despite mobile apps' rapid growth, traditional websites, web applications, and database-connected apps still dominate developers' days. The survey found that for 63 percent of developers, the most common technologies they worked on over the past two years were web applications and websites, while SQL-connected applications were the most common for 62 percent. By contrast, 30 percent of developers had worked on mobile apps or mobile websites in the past two years.

HTML5 is becoming the norm amongst web developers and the shift coincides with the need to support more browsers and screen sizes. Amongst a pool of 919 software developers, Forrester found that 55 percent are using HTML5 and on average they test their output against five browsers. They're also twice as likely than those not familiar with HTML5 to test against mobile browsers. 

Not surprisingly, most mobile developers are focusing their time on Android and iOS, with the iPhone the "first priority device" for 35 percent of mobile developers, while 27 percent target Android phones first. Android phones overall however lead iOS as a priority (from first to fifth) for 84 percent of developers while iPad, the most important tablet for developers, was a second priority for 27 percent.

Windows Phone still trailing well behind iOS and Android on consumer market share, but it has established itself as a clear third preference ahead of BlackBerry and that is also being reflected in developer preferences.

According to Forrester, 10 percent identified Windows Phone as a first priority, while fewer than 10 percent considered BlackBerry a priority at all. Meanwhile, Windows RT was a priority for just over 20 percent of developers.

Topics: Software Development, Mobility

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

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  • Remains To Be Seen if Customers Will Accept This

    Surveys keep showing that customers prefer platform-native apps that fit in better with the behaviour of other apps for that platform. I know why developers are going for HTML5: because they can't find--or afford to invest in--skills in native platform development.

    Remains to be seen if this is more than a band-aid strategy, though.
    • That's true.

      More ppl use doesn't mean it rocks.
  • for web developers, sure

    But html5 uses some really rough technologies (such as inconsistently appearing markup and the horrendous JavaScript language.)

    Such apps are actually trickier to maintain then low level objective c programs.
  • I have a theory...

    How about we stop letting single-platform minded programmers give an opinion? I can't tell you how many articles I've read where they compare HTML5 vs. Native development. The true winner is going to be the Hybrid Option, using HTML5/CSS/Javascript (mainly AngularJS) for the frontend, and RESTful web service calls for the backend. All wrapped in a nice iOS/Android/Windows 8 Shell.

    I know... native developers everywhere are FUMING at the thought... "but.. but.. Native apps have better performance... Native apps have hooks into the hardware... Native apps are all I know!"

    Wake up and smell the coffee people. Most companies can't afford to house iOS/Android/Windows/and Web Developers. And even if they could afford all of those teams, they would be hard-pressed to find qualified candidates. However, web developers are easy to come by. And most have the ability to build Hybrid apps with the help of PhoneGap, or even the standard "Hello World" examples that all frameworks provide. All one has to do is search "Load Web App in iOS" on YouTube, and you'll find plenty of examples to do so.

    I'm not saying there isn't a place for Native Apps, I'll be the first one to admit that Games, Media Services, and other resource intensive apps are better suited as being fully native. However, 95% of the apps out there, will do just fine as a Hybrid Solution.
    • Re: How about we stop letting single-platform minded programmers give an op

      And listen to the customers instead?

      See my previous comment above.
      • ehhh..

        I have a hard time agreeing with statement. You're assuming that the Customer knows what technology they want. It's up to us, as developers to offer some level of direction for most web applications.

        Ask most customers what they "want," and you're going to get a pretty standard response. "I want an app that works on any device" And until Apple releases XCode for Android and XCode for Windows 8, it's going to be pretty difficult for an iOS developer to convert a fully native iOS app over to Android or Windows..

        However, if the front-end of the App is written in HTML5, then that code will run on all three platforms, with very little adjustments. And don't get me started with all the various versions of the app that you need to maintain every time Apple comes out with a new version of iOS.
  • HTML5 web apps are closing in the native apps UX

    I totally agree. HTML5 will rule. Nowadays, new frameworks enable you to create web apps that has the same UX as native apps, including pre-load of all the site, client side search, immediate response and such.
    SPA (single page web apps) is still a baby, but it made first move, and it'll be running in a year.
    Yigal Carmy
  • Are US-Based Developers Too Focused On HTML5?

    Some interesting stats on the shifting balance in mobile app development:

    Somehow I don't think those top apps are using HTML5...
  • The choice is subjective

    Native vs cross platform app development discussions will go on for a while. I feel the choice should be made on whether your app needs to: work well in a connected environment, support deep security implementations, best exploit device features to enhance user experience. To read more visit:
    Leesa John
  • Exactly as Steve Jobs wanted!

    With majority of developers favoring HTML5, the glory of 'native apps' is getting diminished. It is amazing that hybrid apps built with HTML5 components can render the native feel. Read the impact of HTML5 on mobile app development here:
    Leesa John
  • Do what your customers want - if you can )

    I don't think there's a "norm" here - developers need to think what their customers want, and select the approach accordingly. There are certain things that just cannot be done well with HTML5 - see for some good examples and explanations
  • mobile app development

    Mobile app development revolves around the idea / concept and this moving to development before completing the tasks on the drawing board can cost dearly. As professional mobile app developers, proper attention to drawing details, product outcome and target audience should be given. Hire mobile app developers india & html5 developer can be a right decision, if you like to oursource your project.