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Why you'd be stupid to bet against HTML5

Although HTML5's credentials as a mobile development platform have been called into question, here's why it is set to play a key role as the basis for mobile apps.

Sabre software development VP Tomek Krzyzak: Speed is often raised a concern with HTML5 but the processors on mobile devices are getting faster. Photo: Tomek Krzyzak

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared to call the company's decision to build an HTML5-based mobile app a "mistake" it was seen as a blow to the web standard's future as a mobile development platform.

But for every firm that switches away from HTML5 to native mobile app development there are major companies, such as the Financial Times and LinkedIn, that have adopted HTML5. Indeed, Zuckerberg - whose quotes were taken out of context - himself says he is "excited" about Facebook making greater use of HTML5 in future.

The global travel technology company Sabre shares that same sense of excitement about HTML5. The firm provides software for some of the world's biggest airlines and travel agents as well running travel sites such as Lastminute.com and Travelocity. It is switching its flagship TripCase app for Android, iPhone and BlackBerry app to run largely on HTML5 and JavaScript.

Tomek Krzyzak, software development VP for Sabre, said switching TripCase to HTML5 and JavaScript - with their ability to run on any mobile platform - primarily makes it easier to roll out the app for multiple flavours of handset.

For TripCase, HTML5 is used to render the app's interface and JavaScript to control the app's client-side logic. The app runs within a native code shell on each platform, which allows it to be downloaded through the respective app stores, as well as providing access to platform-specific features such as push email notification.

And while HTML5 has still to overcome the shortcomings of its relative immaturity as a mobile app-development platform, Krzyzak believes that the sheer volume of mobile platforms will drive developers to favour HTML5.

"I can see at some point in time that everyone will be doing it," he said.

"The fragmentation of mobile devices is really big. This is like what we saw 30 years ago with the PC, with hundreds of standards and everyone wanting to produce their own PC."

He predicted it will take five to 10 years for mobile platforms to converge around a standard, and that in the meantime HTML5 will become the de facto choice for developers looking for a manageable way to make apps for the panoply of platforms.

HTML5's savings in cost and effort

According to Krzyzak, writing apps in HTML5 code not only reduces cost over native app development, largely avoiding the need to reproduce apps in several programming languages and tools, but also avoids fragmenting the development effort.

Sarah Kennedy, director of Sabre's Travel Studios, the firm's product incubator, said: "You're keen to operate as a core unit rather than as multiple groups.

"It's great to have top talent focused on that single objective, to have one brain focused on delivering one experience to users."

Krzyzak acknowledges the current weaknesses of HTML5-based apps. Their performance is slower than native apps and they lag behind native apps in gaining access to new features of mobile hardware. But he believes that these problems will diminish.

"Speed is often bought up as a concern for HTML5 but in reality the processors on mobile devices are getting faster and the devices are getting more memory. This is exactly the kind of issue that was bought up about Java versus C++ 15 years ago, when people were concerned about the speed and the consumption of the memory.

"Now nobody says Java is slow and everyone is developing systems using Java," he said, predicting that the same will happen with HTML5.

Krzyzak also foresees the development of new APIs and hardware-support that will help HTML5 close the performance and feature gap with native apps.

"There are a lot of plans for new chips coming to market which have acceleration built in for HTML5, and that will change the situation - but we're not there yet."

Light client-side processing

And for an app such as TripCase the client-side processing is relatively light - so the increased burden HTML5 places on the CPU isn't a problem, he said.

TripCase gathers together all the information that travellers need about a journey - including flight times, seating plans and hotel bookings - in an app that's easy to use and which dynamically updates information.

"For the use-case we have, where we're trying to provide the traveller a trip management platform, along with the messaging capabilities, this is perfect, because most of the work is going on on the server side, and you're just rendering on the mobile device," Krzyzak said.

Apart from media-heavy apps such as games, many mobile apps have a similarly lightweight client, with the most common bottleneck being the latency of connections back to a server rather than processor load.

TripCase will switch to being a hybrid HTML5 app by the beginning of next year.

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About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

4 comments
jkameleon
jkameleon

Zuckerberg is not expert in technology, but screwing the investors, and people in general. As for HTML5... What else is there anyway? The only alternative I'm aware of is to develop client app for every possible platform out there, which is pretty much out of the question.

vegesm
vegesm

If you plan to write a non HTML5 app then you should really concentrate on Android and iOS only. The other platforms are so small it's not really a problem not having a mobile app. So it "only" requires the double of resources. On the other hand the look and feel will be consistent with the OS and speed increases as well. I think HTML5 (currently) is only good for thin client apps. Look at the Facebook app: it was so slow and buggy.

siteunseen
siteunseen

...Zuckerberg isn't a technology expert?

jkameleon
jkameleon

... he's businessman and psychologist first, and sofware developer second.

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