After its brief fling of less than a year with HTML5, LinkedIn recently announced that it is reverting back to fully native apps. And LinkedIn isn’t alone in refocusing its mobile strategy on native. Last September, Facebook Co-Founder Mark Zuckerburg said that “betting completely on HTML5 is one of the, if not the biggest strategic mistake we've made”.
These are two high-profile examples, but many other organisations are following their lead either completely or partially abandoning HTML5 in favour of native. So businesses looking to invest in applications should be taking note: could you be forced to re-visit native app development less than 12 months after deploying HTML5?
HTML5 performance and interoperability challenges
HTML5 applications run solely in a web browser on your smartphone or tablet, so that once developed theoretically they shouldn’t need to be re-built for different Operating Systems (OS) or mobile devices. However, because the HTML5 standard has not yet been ratified, mobile web browser functionality can vary from device to device, meaning that what works on one device may not necessarily work on another.
This can cause performance issues that are irritating at best, and at worst, prohibitive for enterprise deployments. For example, some mobile browsers do not support offline caching, meaning any loss of connectivity results in a loss of data. In addition, due to the amount of time that a corporate app is used, memory can run low on HTML5 apps.
Much more than user experience
Being finely tuned to each device and OS means that native apps offer a much slicker, quicker user experience compared with HTML5, where performance is slow and varies from device to device.
However, achieving a good standard of user experience is crucial. If you are asking your staff to embrace a shift from long-standing paper-based processes to automated workflows on a mobile device, then you need to ensure that your app is easy to understand, fast, intuitive and rewarding to use.
An integral part of good user experience is making sure the app delivers specific functionality that enhances processes. But being device agnostic is actually counter-productive if you want to take advantage of the kind of sophisticated technologies that today’s smartphones and tablets benefit from. Unlike HTML5, using native enables you to innovatively leverage the rich features of the device such as the camera, NFC technology, microphone, GPS, accelerometer and Sat Nav, seamlessly incorporating them into processes.
For simpler app requirements though, like forms-based applications, HTML5 offers a viable, cost effective alternative to native, where sophisticated functionality is not necessary and user experience will be fit for purpose.
If your business uses a variety of mobile devices, you could consider a hybrid application, which combines the benefits of cross platform development with the flexibility of native. Although this sounds like a good deal, it does hold a major compromise - like HTML5, hybrid apps lack the speed and performance that you can only achieve with native.
In this era of big data, using a mobile application to capture powerful information is essential to the decision making process. The security of that data is often equally important, particularly in fieldworker scenarios where sensitive or valuable data is harvested and transferred. Although HTML5 can secure data whilst it is being downloaded or uploaded, it often slows the app down. Native apps will encrypt cached data, which HTML5 apps cannot. The bottom line is, if you need your business’s data to be safe on mobile devices, then it’ got to be native.
Getting it right first time
At first glance, the quick win advantages of HTML5 seem appealing for businesses looking to initiate a mobility strategy. But on closer inspection, the limitations of this relatively immature development platform are clear.
Although there is optimism about its potential in the long term, HTML5 will always remain the native application’s poorer relation unless the performance gap is plugged by a more mature development ecosystem. Before this happens, native will continue to be first to market with new mobile technologies, leaving HTML5 lagging behind.
Adopting HTML5 for the wrong reasons could prove an expensive experiment. So if you can’t compromise on performance, user experience, sophistication, security and flexibility, then native is still the only practical option for a future proof mobility strategy.