HTML5-based Mobile Apps

September 6, 2011

Some time back I posted a link to an article I read on the Chicago Tribune’s Web site (the article was later pulled from that site, for an unknown reason). The article discussed how the Financial Times and ESPN created “mobile apps” using HTML5 instead of native code. It’s an interesting concept:

  • HTML5 offers many features of conventional apps, such as support for gestures, ability to handle video, local storage capability, and offline usability.
  • The same application will be virtually guaranteed to work on multiple devices (mobile devices by their very nature use extremely current browsers).
  • Apps can be updated without the user having to download and install anything (and, actually, the user never installs anything anyway).
  • HTML5-based apps can be “distributed” without going through proprietary systems like Apple’s App Store.

It’s this last point that impacted the Financial Times’s decisions to go with a Web app, as detailed in this recent article at Macworld.

To be fair, an HTML5-based app is clearly lacking many features that conventional mobile apps can offer. And because HTML5-based apps use the device’s browser, it’s a different, less branded, user experience, even though some steps can be taken to equate the two (as the article discusses). But just one year ago, if you wanted to develop mobile apps for iOS devices, you had to: own a Mac, know Objective-C, and distribute through Apple’s App Store (okay, you didn’t technically have to, but you essentially had to). To develop mobile apps for Android devices, a separate set of skills, software, and destinations was required. Now you have two great alternative routes: using HTML5 or Adobe Flex+AIR (as I’m doing).