Mobile App Development

The Future Of Mobile App Development: Native Vs HTML5

25th April 2013

The major strength of HTML5 is the ability it gives app developers to work from a single code base and deploy seamlessly across multiple platforms including iOS, OSX, Windows, Blackberry, Google Android and all the major web browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. It’s main drawback to date has been it’s performance when compared to native apps. Native app development can offer richer features and a superior user experience but requires more time and effort to create code for each individual platform. Yesterday we discovered the benefits and features of native mobile app development. Today we’re exploring Native Vs HTML5.

The Benefits Of HTML5

So why opt for HTML5? HTML5 is designed specifically to work across all major web browsers and mobile operating systems. It enables mobile users to install web apps as icons on the home screen of any device. This means that if you’re browsing the web on your mobile and find something you want to save, you can create an app icon that directs to the web page via the homescreen of your device. You can see from the Gartner table below that HTML5 is designed to work across all of the key mobile operating systems.

Why Developers Love HTML5

Many developers adopt HTML5 to create apps because of it’s familiarity. The apps that are subsequently developed do not have to be associated with Apple iOS (iPhone/iPad) or Google Android. This can mean saving time on project development work and decreasing the overall cost of deploying the app. There are major advantages associated with the perceived ability to avoid developing from scratch for each mobile operating system.

Who Created HTML5?

HTML5 was created by the W3C. The W3C are a global, non-profit consortium and they have the responsibility of deciding which features HTML5 will support. HTML5 has always been viewed as a work in progress but onlookers suggest the technology is now maturing. Mark Zuckerberg, facebook CEO has been vocal in his scepticism of the technology suggesting it was too immature for Facebook users who require a more robust experience via mobile. However there are many complex, enterprise level mobile apps being developed using HTML5. The BBC Sport mobile app and CNN news are both good examples of apps that utilise HTML5 to create a slick and intuitive user experience.

What Are HTML5 Apps?

HTML5 apps are web based, mobile apps that behave and appear to be the same as native apps. The major difference is that HTML5 apps live on the web. This in turn provides it’s own unique series of challenges for HTML5 in it’s quest to become a ubiquitous mobile app development tool. The major challenge HTML5 faces is the fragmentation of different mobile web browsers.

Mobile Web Browser Market Share

As it stands, the Safari mobile web browser used by iOS devices such as iPhone and iPad holds a 62% share of the market, with Android possessing a 22% share. The major problem here for HTML5 is that each mobile web browser (Opera mini etc) has a different approach in the way it attempts to support HTML5. In addition, HTML5 apps are not able to work offline. This is a major potential drawback and a real weakness for HTML5 when compared to native mobile app development and the overall experience it provides each user.

The Future Of HTML5

The problem with HTML5 is that it continues to be a desktop language living in a world increasingly dominated by mobile device consumption. For mobile app developers, the future means you need to skate where the puck is going, not where it’s already been. In order to truly compete with native app development, HTML5 needs to access more features specifically associated with the hardware of each device. Facebook and LinkedIn are both high profile examples of companies who have opted to dump HTML5 in favor of native mobile app development.

The Problem With Marketing HTML5 Apps

What’s great about developing native apps for iPhone and Android? The fact you have a ready made app store market place through which to deploy your apps to millions of potential customers. Another major challenge for HTML5 is the issue of discovery. As there is no centralised app store marketplace for HTML5 apps, it makes it hard for mobile users to find what they’re looking for, placing a heavy onus on organic SEO (search engine optimisation) and PPC mobile marketing.

The Native App Store Economy

The total value of the app store economy is estimated to be worth $6 billion annually as of 2012. By developing apps for HTML5, businesses looking to jump on the mobile bandwagon are effectively missing a trick. Having said that, another plus point for HTML5 is the fact you don’t need approval from Apple or Google before your apps goes live, meaning you have ultimate creative control and no lag waiting for it to be accepted (or rejected for that matter). What’s also great for HTML5 mobile app developers is not having to split the winnings with Apple either, that’s an extra 30% for the creator each time a copy is sold. Many publishers such as the Financial Times bypass the app store using HTML5 to avoid Apple taking their pound of flesh.

The Future Of Mobile App Development

Using certain third-party platforms app developers can now access the benefits of native and HTML5 app development. The challenge is that consumers have spent the last 5 years growing to love using natively built mobile apps via Android and iOS and the process of discovering HTML5 apps via the mobile web browser is overly complex and fragmented. Platforms such as PhoneGap enable developers to create apps in HTML5 and utilise a native wrapper that enables the app to deployed via a centralised app store market place such as Google Play or Apple’s App Store. Without getting overly technical, tools like PhoneGap wrap HTML5, JS and CSS web apps in native code providing a middle ground on the native/HTML5 spectrum. So for now there is a split between native apps, HTML5 apps and hybrid apps. Who will win the battle for dominance remains to be seen.

Insights like these directly to your inbox

Keep up to date with out latest thoughts
subscribe icon