Tablets

A nail in the HTML5 coffin?

What can an enterprise IT leader do when a social media titan publicly shuns the very tool that was supposed to make cross-platform mobile development possible? Patrick Gray explains.

One of the biggest hindrances to widespread tablet adoption is the proliferation of tablet platforms. Unlike desktop computers, where Microsoft Windows largely dominates the marketplace, there's essentially no heir apparent in the tablet space. Apple currently controls the most market share, but Google's Android and Microsoft's impending Windows 8 continue to vie for attention.

For everyone, from enterprise IT leaders to startup mobile software companies, tablet applications can look like a highly risky bet. Hardware costs for a particular platform are relatively obvious, but the cost to hire skilled developers or groom talent in-house is an expensive proposition, not to mention long-term support of any custom applications. This makes a cross-platform tool that allows one to hedge their bets while the dust settles on the tablet market look all the more compelling. Until the CEO of Facebook spoke recently, that tool looked like HTML5.

The promise (and failure) of HTML5

From a layman's perspective, HTML5 allows developers to create robust applications that run in a compatible web browser. This holds instant appeal: devices ranging from mobile phones to tablets to desktops running a variety of operating systems could access the same application and have it work in nearly the same way. Web-based applications are nothing new, but HTML5 adds the ability to run these applications and store data, even when disconnected from a network, which is a critical bit of functionality for a mobile device like a tablet.

HTML5 seemed to be making headway, with support in recent versions of the major web browsers and in the leading mobile platforms. This looked great on paper, but social media giant Facebook recently abandoned HTML5 for its mobile platforms and decided to "go native." They distributed a revised Facebook application for iOS using native iOS tools, and they promised the same in the near future for Android. Adding insult to injury, Facebook's CEO quipped that adopting HTML5 was "one of the biggest strategic mistakes we've ever made." Ouch.

What's an IT leader to do?

So, what can an enterprise IT leader do when a social media titan publicly shuns the very tool that was supposed to make cross-platform mobile development possible? I see three potential options. The easiest option, in terms of capabilities and leaving options for the future, is to build applications and services that require minimal functionality on the part of the client. While a customized tablet application might sound nice for your latest mobile financial dashboard, perhaps a mobile-optimized web application or even something as simple as an "email on demand" report generator will suffice. Much of the power of mobile devices is the ability to access data from anywhere, and with some creativity, existing tools may be able to provide that access through a less sexy interface.

Secondly, IT leaders can let vendors do the heavy lifting. Obvious functionality like email is baked into all the major mobile operating systems, but if you already use tools like Salesforce.com or SAP, vendors are rapidly creating mobile clients optimized for the major tablet operating systems. This is obvious and fairly easy, but there are still disparities, even within the same application running on different platforms. This also assumes you're already running a system from a major vendor that's making progress in the mobile space. If your ERP is homegrown or from a vendor without platform-specific mobile clients, you're out of luck.

Finally, while there's a fair argument that HTML5 wasn't the right tool for Facebook's mobile client, perhaps it can fit the bill for your enterprise application. There's a danger, of course, that the major mobile players have little incentive to fully support HTML5, and it may end up stillborn -- but for a basic application, HTML5 could be a safer bet than building platform-specific knowledge in-house and risking betting on the wrong platform.

It's tempting with mobile to get caught up in the spec lists and feature porn of the various platforms, but like any computing tool, remain focused on what business problems you can solve with a highly connected, highly mobile device. If you jump too quickly to the technical aspect of the solution, it's easy to get caught up in debates about development tools and platforms, when there may be a simpler solution that's "good enough" readily available.

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About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

33 comments
Kevin Humbles
Kevin Humbles

I'm sorry, I understand FB's place in the world and that place has nothing to do with what tool I choose to leverage when building an application. The only way FB's development decissions would affect MY decissions is if I am developing a FB app. I honestly don't see how this decission reflects on HTML5 as a whole. This decission has to do with using HTML5 as your way of developing a "native app" instead of a REAL native app. They don't seem to have abandoned HTML5 for their regular website. (which I can still use from my tablet) Maybe they said that and I missed it, but that changes nothing with regard to whether I use HTML5. Let me know if Apple, Google, and Microsoft stop supporting HTML5. They are the companies that will affect whether I use HTML5 in my app development plans. Otherwise I will choose project language based on the intersection of project requirements and language features.

Still_Rockin
Still_Rockin

Facebook’s CEO quipped that adopting HTML5 was “one of the biggest strategic mistakes we’ve ever made.” Why? WHY did he say that it was a mistake for them? Can we know the specifics?

millenium_komal
millenium_komal

I think the point should not be whether Facebook supports HTML5 or not. It should be whether HTML5 (as of today), is mature enough to hold the position which Flash held. There are no (to best of my knowledge), architectural framework (e.g. PureMVC, RobotLegs, Cairngorm, etc) to create a big enterprise level app, as we could do with Flash/Flex. We cannot create a robust and extendable e-learning course using HTML5. We might still be able to create moble games, or apps using HTML5.

Ventaur
Ventaur

Zuckerberg actually said that betting TOO MUCH on HTML5 was the big mistake in their mobile strategy. He never said that adopting HTML5 was the mistake. Most of their primary website is HTML5. The mobile version of their main website is HTML5 and gets more traffic than any FB app that's out there. Get the facts straight. Do not start a quote mid-sentence and preface it with whatever you want for sensationalism. HTML5 is here to stay. Move along!

jerrywin5
jerrywin5

"porn"? should that have been "born"?

Mr_Underhill
Mr_Underhill

PDF and Flash solved these issues long ago. Now we are back to the 1990s!

jsaccoccio
jsaccoccio

Disclosure: I got into the industry as a PowerBuilder developer. Since the dawn of HTML the promise of providing the richness of a native GUI has been an elusive and ever more complicated goal. HTML 5 is just another step in that direction with an entirely new level of complexity and cross platform compatibility flaws.

andrew232006
andrew232006

1. They're already supporting it. Unless they decide to rip out all the implemented html5 features from their browsers, HTML5 will still be useful. 2. Every other website that is and will use HTML5. Those sites have a choice between writing a custom html5 web application and writing and deploying custom IOS, android and windows applications. I'm betting most will stick with the first choice. 3. There are no reasonable alternatives. Are web browsers going away? Is IOS going to support flash? Is there another widely accepted standard?

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

Although I thought FB was a step up from who used myspace (still exists ?) I know from the majority of users on FB I know many would not be the like to sway any industry technology direction. I use FB, minimally to keep track of some family that prefers to only use FB but I would not care if they disappeared. I agree with others, what some social media guru thinks is irrelevant in the rest of the industry, and that should be apparent with how well their IPO went (NOT) I think they will figure out one day when everyone has passed them on the technology train and they are left at the station :-) My self, I can't wait until the wide spread adoption of HTML5 and the demise of Flash !!!!!!

r.manikandan
r.manikandan

This article is a bit amateurishh!! FB's decision is based on its own requirements and business model, where its success is measured only by the user experience and nothing else. The technology is to be adopted based on what you need to get out of it, and not based on what FB is doing!!

fletchoid
fletchoid

Remember Myspace? I wonder what technologies they decided would be irrelevant in the future? Facebook may be around 10 years from now, but the next "big thing" can pop up at any moment. It would be nice if there was a way that the next "big thing" could work across all platforms. Hmmm, what could that be?.....

Fritzpk
Fritzpk

I switched to Android ICS this year. I've been on BB and Win6.5 and OS doesn't matter. Mobile applications suck in comparison to desktop. Browsers do too. I've been a Firefox fan and held out hope it would be a viable choice. Actually Opera and Chrome appear to be the better options and they are still limited in capability, so how can anyone blame HTML 5 for the fact that the browsers have such limited capability?

J-R-Doe
J-R-Doe

discontinuing production of all so-called rubber tires for automobiles, trucks/trailers, earthmovers, 747's, bicycles, etc., because plastic wheels work on his roll around suitcase

khit
khit

"People on Twitter have read too much into this soundbite, especially as Zuckerberg followed it up with "It's not that HTML5 is bad. I'm long-term really excited about it. [..] We have more people on a daily basis using mobile web Facebook than our iOS or Android apps combined."

rhonin
rhonin

Since the Apple led demise of Flash, I have been waiting for HTML5 to evolve to the point it can fill most or all of those shoes. Still waiting. It's getting better, but is still half baked at best.

wpeckham
wpeckham

I have no problem with Facebook. I do rather take issue with anyone who looks to social networking sites for cutting-edge technical innovation, that is not what they do! The great HTML-5 work is in progress, but you are either not seeing it, or seeing and not recognizing it. The potential is there for some exciting work, and someone is already doing it. Very likely some of those doing exciting work are still students. Facebook (and other social and corporate sites) will jump back on the bandwagon once they see it passing them by.

bobk1
bobk1

Is Java Mobile Edition available and a viable option for these platforms? As a developer, I would rather see some cross-platform standard used instead of native code. Some development environments including Embarcadero / Firemonkey do address cross-platform issues.

SKDTech
SKDTech

I can't remember the last time I logged in to their site, and I have never used any their mobile apps.

luenib
luenib

I think we are paying too much attention to an entertainment outlet. A SM that replaced Myspace and that is going to be replaced by something else, I don't know, something that can be delivered throughout emerging technologies like... mobile platforms.

mcquiggd
mcquiggd

Facebook is desperately trying to find a way to make revenue from adverts etc, based on the perceived value of it's user supplied data. My suspicion is that they find it easier to attempt a locked down advertising platform on mobile by using native apps (with existing APIs) rather than an open standard. Facebook is so last decade.

mike
mike

I support alot of different clients from Medical to Auto who would kill for HTML5 to port the apps to a mobile device like a tablet. Everyone I suport in the business world are waiting with baited breath for the surface tablets by MS becasue they will run the apps and integrate into a MS world. If we could port an app to tablets running android, it would mean a significant reduction in costs (for some straff, not all) to perform their functions. Unless we can encapsulate windows into alternative os/ios, html5 would be a solution. Anyone who needs mobile (nurses, physicians, auto writers, etc) would benefit greatly so I too think we shouldn't kiss off HTML5 jsut becaue some muckity muck says so

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

HTML5 is here to stay. While Facebook, who cares?

brobbins
brobbins

Don't you think it is way too early to be discussing the demise of HTML 5? Okay, so FB doesn't like it. Just because FB doesn't want to support it doesn't mean an enterprise's apps cannot successfully utilize it. Looking at what Google has done with it so far, it looks very capable.

333239
333239

... in the mobile browsers

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

are writing off large sections of the world from being able to use it as any major Flash app will only run well on the latest versions of Windows with the very latest Flash updates, thus all but restricting the use to the USA and a few other spots.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

it's gotten so bad that Adobe have now abandoned all plans to support any system that meets the Industry Standards so they can concentrate on making Flash work well on the current proprietary OS of one of their partner companies.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

do so solely because the makers of that platform created them. HTML5 is like HTML and all the other Industry Standard settings in that they are designed to work perfectly with any platform built to the existing Industry Standards, some of those standards have been around for up to 30 years, while most have been around since the early 1990s or since the new technology was invented and a standard set. All the problems created with browser have been due to the browsers being altered to work better with a specific operating system that was NOT working according to the standards.

mckinnej
mckinnej

While HTML5 is still quite rough around the edges, it's still got the new car smell. It's far too soon to be trading it in. It took years for Flash to mature and propagate to all corners of the web. Hopefully it won't take HTML5 that long and it will be a better solution overall. We shouldn't be making funeral arrangements just because one company doesn't jump on the bandwagon. After all, FB isn't exactly a mission critical application.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

that it don't work well on a lot of computers and Adobe don't care if it never does.