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

We could be on the cusp of a shift away from native apps and going full-throttle towards the dominance of HTML5.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

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.

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"We've used HTML5 to step out of iTunes and back into the browser environment," said Rob Grimshaw, managing director of FT.com, 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."


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