HTML5 or Native for Mobile Apps? Try hybrid
Whether or not mobile developers would shift to the new HML5 Web technology or continue with native apps is often a contentious and never-ending discussion. However, the debate is missing an important point.
Casting the conversation as native-vs-HTML5 ignores the key fact that most mobile developers are looking at a hybrid approach. The hybrid app will be built individually for each mobile platform, including iOS, Android, and soon, Windows Phone, but developers can add layers of HTML5 to run on top of native code in order to take advantage of each platform's best features.
For many developers, the fact that they can update portions of the code on the server and have changes propagated across all users without requiring them to download a new version the app is a particularly attractive reason for going hybrid. Of course, as we've noted in earlier posts, HTMl5 can introduce some vulnerabilities into the apps if sufficient security precautions are not taken.
Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of developers in a survey from Apcelerator and researcher IDC said they were planning on integrating HTML5 in one form or another into their mobile apps in 2012. Only six percent said they would write the apps entirely in HTML5; only 21 percent planned to stick entirely to native code, according to the survey.
This is an important distinction. Using native code doesn't mean developers have to turn their backs on HTML5. IT departments cannot wait for the debate to get settled before deciding on a strategy and setting policies. Instead of committing to one side, many developers have carved out a middle ground: hybrid apps.
The general consensus was that Facebook abandoned HTML5 when it recently released a native iOS version of the app instead of sticking with the HTML5 app it's had for several the months. This matters because Facebook was one of the more vocal proponents of the new Web standard.
Facebook 5.0 for iOS is a native app and is "twice as fast as the previous version," wrote Mick Johnson, Facebook product manager, on the company's blog post Aug. 24.
However, he explained that Facebook had only dropped some HTML5 elements from its iOS app. So it's not wholesale abandonment. The accompany says the app will still use HTML5 in areas that will be updated more frequently in order to push out updates regularly without requiring users to download a new version of the app each time.
Facebook is not the only one looking at HTML5 to add new features and capabilities to feature-rich native apps. LinkedIn estimates over 90 percent of the code in the iOS app is actually HTML5.
Studies Go Both Ways
Studies are funny things. It's often possible to find analysts saying one technology is dead while finding another group claiming it has become ubiquitous. HTML5 is no exception. Analysts from Gartner and Forrester recently released numbers predicting HTML5 will continue to gain business enterprises over the next 10 years. But the fact that majority of the Web browsers are capable of handling HTML5, and that developers are interested in the technology , is accelerating the rate of adoption and usage, the reports agreed.
Strategy Analytics has a contrary view. According to the "Strategy Analytics Apps Ecosystem Opportunities" report released in July, HTML5 will have only a minor impact on the mobile apps ecosystem. HTML5 will likely be confined to niche status and should not be considered a threat to native app dominance, the report said. Business, technical, and revenue challenges will prevent HTML5 apps from gaining mainstream popularity and stealing market share away from feature-rich native apps, the analysts wrote.
While developers are attracted to HTML5 because of its "write once, run everywhere" premise, fragmented support for available APIs within HTML5 "actually makes this impossible," Strategy Analytics asserted.
The report didn't dismiss HTML5 entirely, noting that the future likely lay in the hybrid model. As already discussed, the analysts believed developers would use HTML5 elements while building the app in order to take advantage of the capabilities the Web technology does deliver better.
As a new technology, HTML5 is poised to shake up development efforts -- and not just on mobile devices. Developers would be able to build rich web-based apps that run on any device with just a standard web browser, without installing extra plugins. With major Web browsers already supporting HTML5 and a big development toolbox at their disposal, developers are clearly not waiting to see how the debate ends.
I will be looking at development trends and reexamining the security implications and issues within HTML5 over the next few months. But I want to hear from you: Which will win? Do you prefer native apps or HTML5? Are you interesting in moving away from native platform-dependent apps and adopting a standard? Are you using hybrids? Don't be shy; share your thoughts below.
About the Author
Fahmida Y. Rashid is a contributing editor for Slashdot and SourceForge.