During the planning and requirement stages of mobile application development, one of the biggest decisions clients have to make is which platform(s) to develop their application for. Development for both Android and Apple operating systems is considered the best approach to increase reach and revenue, but development costs for both platforms can be rather exorbitant. The emergence of HTML5 as a potential alternative to platform-specific code generated debate about whether or not HTML5 could possibly step up to replace native apps or at least take over a great deal of their market share. HTML5 presents an exciting opportunity for those looking to develop mobile applications that work on a variety of platforms without the inflated development costs.
Many have shot holes in the theory that HTML5 will push Android, Apple and other platform-specific apps out of the spotlight, mostly citing the fact that the language is being modified by a variety of stakeholders. Because HTML5 is a standard language it is at an unfortunate disadvantage when up against controlled mobile operating systems like those created by Google and Apple, companies that dedicate their resources to continually innovating upon these OS’.
Here are some important considerations in the debate of HTML5 web-based vs. native mobile applications:
HTML5 isn’t going anywhere; it is a core technology of web-based development. Though HTML5 is not dominating the mobile realm in the way that some predicted, the language continues to undergo significant improvements and will likely continue to gain momentum in the mobile marketplace. Because HTML5 apps work on both the web and the major mobile operating systems, the likelihood of an HTML5 app becoming obsolete in the near future is virtually zero.
“Adding to the Web”
Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, explained at Telefonica’s Campus Party event in Berlin, “If it’s not a web app, it doesn’t have a URL, and so it means I can’t talk about it. We can’t all decide whether you’re making sense or not. Native apps are taking away from the web. The good news is web apps are putting it back.” For the purposes of app promotion and increasing reach web apps, unlike native apps, provide the benefit of being able to link to and view content on the web.
Monetization opportunities for HTML5 apps are limited compared to those of native applications. HTML5 apps have to focus on advertising in order to generate revenue, while platform-specific apps often leverage in-app purchases and other one-click options to increase profits.
Functionality and Performance
A major drawback of developing mobile apps in HTML5 is the limited functionality. Native development awards the ability for much richer applications and enhanced user interface functionality. In an interview with Business Insider Michael King, Director of Enterprise Strategy at Appcelerator, shared the concept of the “slope of interactivity.” According to King, “the higher up the slope you go, the more interactive the app. Your requirements for native functionality grow as you move further up the slope. Something like Netflix video consumption isn’t very interactive – apps like that are a great place to use HTML5.”
Furthermore, HTML5 applications generally require an internet connection to load or run and are much slower than native apps.
Android and Apple apps have a significant advantage over HTML5 apps in the realm of discoverability. App stores are very user-friendly, well-known and frequented, and have search algorithms that make app discovery easy for visitors. On the other hand, there are not many well-known sites for downloading HTML5 apps besides Facebook’s App Center or the Mozilla Marketplace. This is currently one of the biggest hurdles for promoting HTML5 apps to the public.
Apple’s guidelines and conformance regulations for mobile apps on their App Store are the strictest of the major platforms. Though these restrictions about content, privacy and functionality can be limiting for developers, the allure of Apple’s market share is considered a viable motivation to abide by their rules. Because HTML5 development comes with the opportunity to create applications without these restrictions, as HTML5’s functionality and performance becomes more robust, we could see many developers choosing to go with HTML5 over Apple.
As you can see, there are a number of reasons why native, platform-specific code remains a best practice for highly interactive mobile applications. However, HTML5 continues to dominate the web and gain traction in the mobile market as the language improves and grows, and the cross-platform nature of HTML5 applications remains a major perk for many seeking mobile app development.