Over the past two decades, the mobile industry has become increasingly stunted by fragmented protocols, standards, and regional differences. But a hot new technology called HTML5 promises to remedy this by delivering an unprecedented open, democratic and wonderfully fertile mobile web. Evangelists say the HTML5 movement has so much momentum that it could defeat the native app — an application that is designed to run on a single platform — in as little as two years. Sundar Pichai, who leads Google’s HTML5-happy Chrome OS initiative, agrees that the “incredible advantages of the Web will prevail” over the dominant native app model. Another mobile developer expert Mike Rowehl adds: “We’ll forget that we even passed through another era of native apps on the way to the mobile web.” The transition comes at a time when the mobile revolution is driving economic growth in the US and abroad. Phones are quickly become our second brain, and users are snapping up the smartest phones they can find. Companies, large and small, are investing billions of dollars to create a smartphone presence.
But if you look closely, despite the Apple/Joker’s continued pranks to keep native app alive, you’ll see how much Google/Batman keeps closing the gap on him. The following are the areas where native app gained a quick advantage over HTML5. Note that in almost all areas HTMl5 has caught up. In several areas, HTML is about to catch up. In a few areas, HTML5 has a plan to catch up, but is admittedly at least a year or two away from doing so:
- Touch/gestural interfaces — Gestural technology has been implemented by HTML5 framework vendors, such as Sencha. UI components that are controlled by touch and swipe, such as carousels, scrolling lists, disclosure panels and related widgets are all supported on the HTML5 web. Vendors like Sencha are also helping get rid of things like back buttons, refresh buttons, passed links, bookmarks and other “anachronistic” features of the desktop web that don’t translate well onto the mobile web. Thus coding time has been cut down too.
- Visual Scale — There’s nothing here that HTML5 can’t address. The web page now has sufficient ways to ask what size screen its on, and size images and resolutions accordingly.
- Video/Audio — Now addressed by HTML5 for sustained playback. Audio synchronization for short sound effects still needs work in the browsers.
- Graphics & FX — Native apps are faster for some operations – particularly anything very graphics-intensive. Graphic-intensive games won’t render as effectively in HTML5 anytime soon. However, increasingly, vendors like Sencha are working around many of the speed issues by doing things like embedding a map component that can be primed for loading maps — addressing the slowness you’ve seen in things like Google maps or other sites.
- Camera/Video access — HTML5 can handle photo capture from a web page on Android devices (at least on the latest versions, run by the Honeycomb OS; but it can’t handle it on iPhones yet).
- Contacts access — Here, HTML5 addresses file access, but most apps are beginning to draw from the cloud anyway, and not from the device client.
- Accelerometer access – HTML5 can handle this.
- Bluetooth access — This is one device access feature HTML5 has not addressed yet. That said, even for native apps, bluetooth access is fairly limited
- Disconnected Operation — Web apps through HTML5 can now work in disconnected mode; you can get up to 50MB of database space if you ask user permission, in order to keep operating without an internet connection.
- App Store Services (discovery, updates, payments & trust) — Not only can HTML5 apps be sold through HTML5 or Chrome app stores, they can be sold directly through Apple’s App Store, Android Marketplace or Blackberry App World, after being placed in a simple “native” app shell such as Nimblekit or Webworks.
- Running in the background and sending notifications – There are HTML5 specs for these capabilities, but they haven’t been implemented in the leading browsers yet. When placed in a native wrapper, HTML5 can do this, but it still means it can’t do this without extra help.
- Business model – Ad revenue works well on HTML5, since the mobile web already has ad networks. But ads aren’t doing as well on mobile as many expected, so other monetization methods are necessary, such as payment technologies for subscriptions or virtual goods. For HTML5, there are PayPal and Google APIs, but the experience isn’t very good. Lately, however, companies like Zong and Boku are making payments dead simple for the mobile web.