HTML5 or native apps: what’s best for your business? - 20 Nov 2013

There’s been a lot of debate in the mobile technology industry about the pros and cons of creating applications using platform-specific technology for Android, iOS, and other mobile platforms, or using HTML5 and related web technologies to create applications that run on the web across all mobile platforms and devices.

It’s a complex issue with a long list of criteria to consider when weighing up strengths and weaknesses. HTML5 took a hit last year when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said that “the biggest mistake that we made, as a company, is betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native…”


We commented recently on the decline of PC sales and the growth of mobile use among consumers and businesses. Globally, mobile device sales are now two times PC sales, and tablets alone will overtake PCs within two to three years, so the web’s future is undoubtedly mobile. Mobile app development is big business, and using the technology that’s right for a company can make a huge difference to its success.

Mobile consumers spend an increasing amount of time using native apps: in March 2011, around 60 billion minutes were spent using native apps, but by August 2012 this had increased to almost 160 billion. And in comparison, only twenty percent of user time on mobile devices is spent using the web browser.

So with this evidence of the popularity of native apps, why would a company opt for a browser-based HTML5 app? For one, the development cost is usually lower: only one version of a web app needs to be developed, and it can be made to work across all mobile platforms including Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Developers like HTML5 because it’s a well-known language and cross-browser support is fairly strong, and improving all the time. Web-based apps can be bookmarked straight onto a device home screen, so that from a user point-of-view, they look a lot like a native app that was downloaded from an app store.

For some, the lack of a centralised HTML5 web app store is also a weakness because it can make visibility a problem and doesn’t offer the same revenue opportunity – the app store economy is now worth $6 billion.

But this lack of centralised app stores also has its advantages. There’s no approval process for web apps: a developer can create the app and make it available to download without having to seek approval from Google or Apple. There’s also no commission cost like that associated with centralised app stores: if a company opts to sell their web based app, they don’t have to pay a percentage of the revenue to the owner of an app store.

Overall, performance of native apps is still better. Having the app running straight from a device using its own programming language provides a better user experience because apps can be faster and smoother, and the issue of HTML5 feature compatibility in different browsers isn’t a factor. Security of native apps can sometimes be stronger.

A middle-ground option chosen by some businesses is to create a hybrid app – that is, an app that runs on web technologies, which is wrapped in a native shell to be made available on app stores.

While native apps are performing more strongly in terms of sales and growth in the consumer sphere, HTML5 is seeing strong growth in the enterprise, in the form of web apps and hybrid apps. This is possibly due to the lower costs associated with web app development and the need to produce applications that work on multiple platforms. Moreover, if an app is built for staff usage and isn’t intended as a revenue stream, the lack of a consumer-facing app store isn’t a problem.

According to Gartner, in 2015 native apps will account for 40% of the market, hybrid apps will also account for 40%, and HTML5 apps running on the web will make up 20%. It seems likely that as more HTML5 features are supported by mobile browsers, consumers will continue to adopt the use of more web apps.

The best option for your organization will depend on the nature of the app you want to create, its intended users or target market, budget, deadlines, and other factors. At Signature Digital we can develop both native apps and HTML5 web-based apps, and we’d welcome the opportunity to discuss your needs. If we can help, please get in touch.

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