HTML 5 lifeline not in feature phone apps

Feature phone apps will unlikely be the savior for HTML 5 technology due to the device's limited chipset performance and declining market demand, but there is still potential elsewhere.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Even though HTML 5 allows developers to extend the reach of their apps to feature phones, these devices are unlikely to be the savior for the technology. Still, there is optimism it will find growth in other areas such as graphics rendering and Web services protocol.

While a majority of developers are more keen and comfortable with native apps, it is still too early to judge the success of HTML 5 in general, said Serene Chan, industry analyst for ICT practice, Asia Pacific at Frost & Sullivan.

Hypertext Markup Language version 5 (HTML 5) is the latest specification of Web language that enables any Web-based app to support rich interactivity such as graphics and video without having to install third-party, proprietary plug-ins like Adobe Flash, as was previously the case. Mobile apps built with HTML 5--so as to be able to run on any device via a mobile Web browser--are deemed to give a poorer performance compared to native ones built for a specific platform, though.

Recent headlines have caused the situation for HTML 5 mobile apps to appear bad, Chan said, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's public remarks that investing in HTML 5 instead of native apps was his company's biggest mistake.

"Just because Facebook [says it] will go back to native apps is not indicative that HTML 5 is doing badly. The Facebook app contains HTML 5 in areas where the company wants flexibility in making modifications quickly," she said.

Vishal Jain, mobile services analyst at 451 Research, concurred, saying the state of HTML 5 adoption is not as bad as it is perceived to be. HTML 5 is also a combination of disparate set of technologies that can be deployed in isolation, he explained.

Hence, the spinoff from HTML 5 and associated technologies has found its way to areas such as graphics rendering, Web services protocol and server-side programming, he said.

No savior in feature phone apps
Still, both analysts emphasized that HTML 5 adoption will not find a haven as applications for feature phones.

"Feature phones and HTML 5 do not go hand in hand," Jain said.

Feature phones have a limited chipset performance and much of the latest HTML 5 features demand higher performance which automatically pushes the price of the handset, he explained. Plus, support for HTML 5 apps will not create much of a difference in terms of the user experience on a feature phone.

Frost & Sullivan's Chan added that feature phones are in decline in some markets. Also, users of feature phones are typically not heavy app users in the first place, so developers will not see the point of creating apps for such handsets.

She said the long term prospects for HTML 5 remain optimistic nonetheless, because it ultimately helps developers and content providers remove the "chains" from being tied to native platform owners. HTML tools are not perfect or as fine-tuned now as native apps, but companies such as Mozilla Foundation are working to improve the performance of HTML 5, she added.

Mozilla has been working on its own mobile operating system (OS) for smartphones, which will be designed with HTML 5, including the applications. Its Firefox OS and mobile apps will run on cheaper handsets to be sold in emerging markets where Apple iOS and Google Android smartphones are not within the price range for most users, such as Latin America.

Jain said Mozilla's move to build its own mobile OS and apps with HTML 5 to deliver a smartphone experience but on lower-priced handsets for emerging markets is a "good move for the future of HTML 5".

Nonetheless, the outcome would depend on how closely Mozilla can control the specs and attract developers to build apps for its OS, he said, noting that Mozilla currently does not have great market share in mobile.

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