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