I came across an interesting post from Chris Heilmann over on the Mozilla blog that destroys some myths about HTML5. Most of the anti-HTML5 talk I have heard has come from those debating whether it is a viable platform for building mobile applications, given that hugely scaled out apps like Facebook have halted HTML5 versions. Most of these arguments are well dismissed by Heilmann. But, in some effect, the argument calls in to question the larger issue: are web apps in the mobile age better or worse than native mobile apps?
I think the answer is not all that simple. In fact, I have argued that for many organizations, primary use cases should dictate development. For example, data entry-based mobile B2B apps such as a field service report form can be hugely functional as a web app. Consumer experience apps such as a game or productivity tool like a mobile white board will have better effect as a native app. I mean, you’re not going to see a mobile game reach “Angry Birds” status as a web-only app. For many small businesses, or those with primarily B2B processes, web apps are viable, affordable mobile extension approaches.
The questions to ask are simple. Such as: How important is look and feel to the build? If you are building an internal, B2B focused data capture app – having slick native capability is not of the utmost importance. If you are a global brand building a social game to extend your brand, some native wrapper might help.
Secondly, think about the upgrade process. Many developers of mobile business applications are shying away from native in favor of web and hybrid apps. This is because the upgrade process gets bottlenecked at times when you factor in the wait time between major app store approvals. In a world of iterative and agile development, these stall in the upgrade process can be frustrating.
Another consideration is the whole “bring your own device” trend in businesses. The consumerization of IT means that many devices, platforms and form factors exist. By opting to build web versions of your mobile app experiences, you can circumvent a lot of added development time by not forcing developers to build native applications that may have to factor in extra development time to insure functionality across all devices and form factors. While many mobile app platforms claim cross-platform, “write once” capability, there is usually a lot of tweaking involved to insure 100% performance across Android, iOs and Windows 8.
Ultimately it comes down to choice, use case and available resources. At Caspio, for example, we work with a lot of non-technical users looking to build fast, simple mobile web apps of online databases and applications. With this simple, effective tool set, we can help companies mobilize their workforces to build online database apps and add mobile front ends for customers, without a lot of coding or worrying about App Stores and lengthy upgrade processes.