HTML5 mobile web apps will have their day

By October 3, 2012 3 Comments

The HTML5 mobile web app community got a real kick in the teeth when Zuckerberg said that Facebook had wasted two years betting on the technology was now focusing on native apps. On top of losing the worlds biggest web service the general zeitgeist seems to have turned conclusively in favour of native apps.

I think that is right for now for most apps, but HTML5 isn’t dead. The Financial Times is firmly in the HTML5 camp (and I use their app every day), and the New York Times just announced a new HTML5 service.

Taking a look at the pros and cons of the two options for mobile apps it seems to me that whilst native apps holds all the cards right now the strengths of HTML5 will prevail in the long term for a good percentage of apps and may even be telling now for some simpler use cases.

Key benefits of HTML5:

  • runs on any device
  • open access and distribution model – can be installed without going through an app store
  • publisher keeps all revenues (no app store cut)

Key weaknesses of HTML5:

  • performance – particularly scrolling and responsiveness to touch, Nieman Labs explain this well
  • limited access to OS features, including camera, GPS, calendar and most importantly push notifications

Jerky scrolling and poor responsiveness really undermine the user experience (trust me, I feel this everyday on the FT HTML5 app) but there is no reason why a combination of more powerful processors and better javascript engines won’t solve this problem in the medium term, at least to the good enough point. Similarly, future versions of iOS and Android will give HTML5 apps better access to all areas of devices. Google have always supported HTML5 and Apple have shown they do too in iOS6 which gives HTML5 apps better access to the camera and a faster javaScript engine.