HTML5 vs. native app: which is best, or is there an alternative?


Many publishers seem to be keen to look at the benefits of using HTML5 instead of the more expensive route via native applications when considering their mobile apps strategy.

But what exactly is HTML5?

Wikipedia describes it as…

“…a language for structuring and presenting content for the World Wide Web, a core technology of the Internet and as of August 2011 is still under development.”

Still under development! It’s not there yet, but it’s getting there. The mobile industry has become increasingly frustrated by protocols, standards, and world regional differences over time. But this “hot” new technology, HTML5, promises to change this by delivering an open mobile Web, which gives (in theory) the same experience as a native app. And of course, being a Web experience, it’s platform agnostic!

Yahoo’s HTML5 Yahoo! Mail Web app for iPhone and iPod touch (see image above right) offers users desktop-class features, lightning-fast speed, and an engaging, rich media experience.

HTML5 believers say it has so much momentum right now that it could destroy the native app by as soon as 2013. Google says that HTML5 will triumph over the now dominant native app model, and some industry gurus even say that we’ll even forget that we even had an era of native apps on our way to a new faster, mobile Web.

But at present, much of this new technology remains “clunky” and doesn’t offer the same functionality nor the seamless, rewarding consumer experience that native apps do.

So whilst the native versus HTML5 debate will continue for some time, some publishers are already looking at a third option — merging the two approaches into a “hybrid” approach.

Hybrid app development employs native capabilities and functionality while also acting as a strategic step towards HTML5 adoption.

Let’s be clear here: a hybrid app is a native, downloadable app that runs all or some of its UI (user interface) in an embedded browser. To the user, a hybrid app is almost indistinguishable from a native one. It is downloaded from the various app stores/marketplace, it is stored on the individual device, and it is launched just like any other app.

But to publishers and developers there is a big difference. Instead of rewriting the app from scratch for each mobile operating system, they can write some of their app code in HTML, CSS or JavaScript, and re-use it across all platforms.

This opens up a wide range of possibilities. Some apps simply load pages from a Web site. Others include a few embedded pages that are written in HTML and others have their entire UI implemented in HTML5. (From a business point of view, it does seem to make sense to adopt HTML5, as it does offer true cross-platform technology).

So why not embrace hybrid fully? The main thing holding publishers back so far is uncertainty about HTML5’s “clunkiness” and the belief that HTML apps cannot access native device features. However, whilst the former is somewhat true (but it’s getting there), it’s also true that pure mobile Web apps (i.e., those that just run in a browser — not hybrid ones) are indeed restricted to many features, whilst hybrid apps do break this mould.

Another important difference is that hybrid apps are mostly distributed through app stores: you don’t browse to a hybrid app, you download and install it. This is of course, an environment many readers will be familiar with. A good starting point!

From a strategic point of view, publishers should start to consider adopting HTML5 for their own mobile app development. Although not suitable for all app development needs, it does provide a cost-effective solution for a wide range of downloadable apps and allows your gradual entry into the new and coming world of HTML5.

Ask your mobile developer about the potential!

STOP PRESS: Latest news from the tablet world! Samsung has had its new Galaxy Tab 10.1 blocked from sale in Europe, which is a major blow. Goodness knows what it has already cost and continue to cost in production, distribution and marketing monies. It's a fascinating tale, one which Samsung says it will fight and which represents another victory for the seemingly unstoppable machine that is Apple. Read the story here.


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