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HTML5: Still Not Living Up to Expectations

HTML5 hasn't met expectations as a platform for mobile applications, according to a new report from industry research firm IDC. The report, "The Evolving State of HTML5," [fee required], notes the technology is still riddled with misconceptions.

Not One or the Other

HTML5 is a group of web-based, open source technologies that have been touted as working cross-platform via browsers. Native apps,  are developed for a specific platform. Hybrids combine the two approaches.

Al Hilwa, IDC's program director for software development research and the author of the report, told CMSWire that some people operate under the  misconception that either native app development or HTML5 will win out. The reality, he predicts, is that they will continue to co-exist. In fact, IDC predicts that native app development will continue to be "the primary way mobile applications will be delivered and run."

Another misconception, he said, is the "continuing belief that there is a one-size-fits-all platform that has no compromises."

Depending on the app and the degree of platform features it needs to use, the effort required to "engineer a single app in one language may actually be greater than implementing two native [or more] native apps," he explained.

The report also notes that expectations for HTML5 are being hindered by a lack of tools and advanced developer skills. However,  it acknowledges "significant investment" in the evolution of the technologies from major vendors like Google, Adobe, Intel, Microsoft and IBM. Other issues affecting expectations include a furious pace of rapid device changes, platform fragmentation, weak browser implementations and security issues.

Hybrid Mobile Apps

IDC's study echoes others in noting that the strongest arena for HTML5-based app is the development of internal business apps. In February, for instance, a report on HTML5 in the enterprise from Sencha — which admittedly has a stake in the matter as a provider of application frameworks — found HTML5 is catching on big in businesses.

A report last summer from Forrester Research found "a dead heat between native technologies and HTML5" for mobile apps in general, and a tilt toward HTML5 for enterprise apps. And a recent study from digital ad platform Flite said that HTML5 "is likely to become the dominant platform for interactive ads in the coming years."

IDC notes HMTL5 technologies have also landed a beachhead in desktops and a beginning presence in casual gaming. In addition, the report says, "one category of apps we will see move to HTML5 is the class of content-based publishing apps for magazines and electronic books."

But, IDC points out, the greatest use of HTML5 is in hybrid mobile apps, a combination of HTML5 and native code. Surprisingly, Hilwa said, "hybrid approaches can be subject to performance issues because the WebView component supplied by the native platform is often slower than the browser supplied by the same platform."

Best and Worst of Times

The report paraphrases Charles Dickens in saying that these are the best and the worst of times for HTML5.

The best, because the technology's evolution is gaining speed, including broader implementation in new generations of browsers. The worst, because several highly visible efforts to develop HTML5-based mobile apps "have effectively failed," including ones from Facebook and LinkedIn. IDC notes, for instance, that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckeberg said in a 2013 interview that his "biggest mistake was betting big on HTML5" and LinkedIn scrapped HTML5 for a native approach.

"Few start-ups under pressure to succeed would risk implementing their important mobile applications in HTML5," it notes — a litmus test indicator of the distance HTML5 still needs to travel to become the primary mobile app technology.

 
 
 
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