Developers see growing HTML5 importance

Specification helping mobile and Web developers create richer apps that straddle across more platforms and becoming vital choice, but lack of standardization curbs further demand.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

HTML5 is becoming a key component for Web and mobile developers as it helps them create applications that can be run on more platforms, hence, increasing the exposure of their software. However, the lack of standardization is driving many to stick to native programming languages until the Web specification is finalized in 2014.

Michael Azoff, principal analyst of IT solutions at Ovum, pointed out that developers' main objective is finding the least expensive way to develop an app which can run on platforms that have the largest market and greatest monetization opportunities. These considerations vary, depending on whether they are small-scale developers or large business-to-consumer software development companies, he added.

While Apple's iOS mobile platform used to be where all mobile development activities were centered, the market has since expanded to include Google's Android, Research In Motion's BlackBerry and, possibly, Microsoft's Windows Phone platforms, Azoff said.

"This expansion has pushed HTML5 forward as a common denominator. HTML5 today is consistent enough to be a good choice on smart mobile devices," the analyst stated.

He added that while Web development for desktops and laptop is "a little different", developers also are looking to the Web specification to create apps on these platforms.

The analyst noted that HTML5 is currently highly fragmented across key browsers, but reckoned this is a "moving situation" and convergence and consistency are expected "this time next year".

Nick Dillon, analyst for devices and platforms at Ovum, concurred. He said in his e-mail that in the past year, there has been a "significant increase" in the number of mobile developers who are using Web-based technologies, primarily due to the benefits of cross-platform development.

"While this is primarily motivated by the benefits it brings to multi-platform development from a mobile perspective, there will also be benefits for developers who are developing for both mobile and desktop devices," Dillon added.

The analyst believes there is also an increasing number of developers who are using Web technologies to build native apps on mobile devices. This option, he said, offers developers the best of both worlds in that they can get the cross-platform benefits of Web technologies from a single code base, and still enjoy the use of native app specific features such as integrated billing and be able to publish the app on appstores.

HTML5 roadblocks
That said, Dillon pointed out that the majority of mobile developers are sticking to native programming languages because there is still a lack of standardization for HTML5.

"This is likely to remain the case until we see a greater degree of standardization in the implementation of HTML5 by browser vendors. Given that the standard is not due to be finalized until 2014, this may still be some way off," the Ovum analyst stated.

Singapore-based developer, Adi, noted that developers are still exploring what HTML5 can do. The hobbyist developer, who has created three apps for the Windows Phone platform, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that while the idea of coding an app once in HTML5 and having it run on multiple devices "sounds fantastic", there are still limitations. For instance, since HTML5-based apps run on a browser, the software may not have full access to the mobile device's native hardware capabilities such as sensors and GPS, Adi pointed out.

In terms of whether the existing mobile and Web ecosystems are ready to support HMTL5-based apps, he noted that since the current three major OSes in the market--iOS, Android and Windows Phone--support the specification, the "ecosystem is more or less ready".

Another Singapore-based Web developer, Andy Croll, agreed but added that acceptance will be a "phased approach" based on the audience's devices and features.

Croll added that the user interface and experience provided by the app is also more important than whether the app is coded in native programming language or HTML5.

Dillon, however, noted the absence of an established appstore for Web apps which limits their reach, discoverability and monetization benefits that such marketplaces bring.

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