Google’s HTML5 initiatives challenge the app and app store paradigm on mobile

By July 8, 2010Apple, Google, Mobile

image You may have seen the various reports today about the new YouTube HTML5 mobile site (perhaps the best write up is on Techcrunch) – they all say that the site runs as well or better than the native app on the iPhone, particularly with regard to video quality.

Similarly there is a Google Maps HTML 5 mobile site which is better than the native Google maps iPhone app.  I have just been playing with it and I think it is faster, makes more advanced downloads of map tiles to speed sideways scrolling and allows you to view layers on top of the map (e.g. traffic).  I will be using this from now on.

Beyond that there are a bunch of other HTML5 mobile sites for Google’s applications (see the screen grab from Google Mobile) some of which include offline functionality (in case you missed it, earlier this year Google abandoned its Gears project which was a proprietary effort to bring offline functionality to websites).

This is a big deal because users can put these web apps on their iPhones (or any other phone) without the approval of Apple.  Since the launch of the iPhone the app store paradigm has been in the ascendancy with all walled garden related issues that come with it.  Many of us have believed that an open architecture will eventually come to dominate, but it has been very unclear how long that would take.  Google is showing us that it might come sooner than we think.

HTML5 won’t be best for all apps, with games being perhaps the most obvious category where we can expect native apps to retain a significant market share, but it could make a big difference to the current app economy.

HTML5 apps are better for developers (and by extension consumers) for the following reasons:

  • much closer to the write once run anywhere promise
  • no app store approval process
  • no restriction with regard to use of ad platform – I think this is right
  • simpler for web developers to learn

Two things that native apps do have going for them are search and discovery via the app store and easy billing (at least on the iPhone).

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  • I agree, this is great news for us (web) developers. I am currently really delving into HTML5 and am really liking the possibilities. I have a few new apps planned with it already 🙂

  • cool

  • Steve Ives

    I couldn't have put the case for HTML5 apps better myself.

    HTML5 is going to be adopted faster on touch screen smartphone than on the desktop.

    Why? Because – counterintuitively – the average touch screen smartphone has a better browser than the average PC.

    There's a lot of oldish PCs lying around still being used that are running IE7 or even IE6.
    On mobile there's two sizeable audiences – iPhone users and Android users – that all have modern Webkit browsers with good HTML5 support.

  • Thanks Steve. It is also on touch screens (ie mobile) where the benefits for developers are strongest.

  • I love what this is doing for browser speeds; look at the performance of Chrome and Safari now (check out the demos on the Safari HTML5 gallery; realtime 3D hardware-accelerated CSS3 transforms applied to hires video with almost no CPU usage!!!). This ding-dong battle between Google and Apple is so great for entrepreneurs; new tech, multiple good exits to young startups, good monetization and distribution options… To heck with “fragmentation” or whatever people are worried about these days – these are good times!

    PS, where's MS in all this? Have they sacked Ballmer yet for the Kin epic fail?

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  • Nic, you mentioned the benefit of easy billing for native apps… I don't think we should underestimate how much of a hurdle the lack of unified billing will be for HTML5 in the web/native development decision.

    Developers started (and continue) to target iOS because despite expensive dev hardware, a proprietary programming language, Kafka-esque submission rules and a massively competitive marketplace, the attractive billing framework meant devs could actually still get paid.

    HTML5 is an exciting set of technologies, and clearly one that's a huge win for players that monetise indirectly (both Google & others) but I've yet to see such excitement from the host of developers that want to sell their software more directly.

  • Billing is definitely a big issue for everything other than native apps on the iPhone/iPad. Two points – 1) developers are using Android in volumes anyway (…), and GOOG and others have payments initiatives underway.

    I think your basic point is right though – unless the current situation changes Apple will remain the more attractive choice for many.

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  • I think, perhaps, there’s a minor typo in the last paragraph: “consumers under 3 (“millenials”).” I’m guessing it should read under 30? Otherwise, a very interesting and intriguing report!

  • I think, perhaps, there’s a minor typo in the last paragraph: “consumers under 3 (“millenials”).” I’m guessing it should read under 30? Otherwise, a very interesting and intriguing report!