The Internet Goes Mobile with HTML5 Web Apps
In a related post, I reviewed evidence that a number of major players in the tech industry are investing heavily in HTML5 web-based app development. Recent moves by Google, Facebook and Mozilla among others suggest a shift in support from native apps to browser-based web apps. Why is this? The tech industry’s interest in HTML5 must be seen in light of a larger trend in the technology marketplace: the Internet is going mobile.
In large part, the growth in mobile devices was the beginning of the end for desktop applications. For years, developers were able to target Windows and reach almost all users. Widespread smartphone adoption and mobile internet access have upset this paradigm.
Take a look at these mobile usage statistics from Google’s 2011 research with Ipsos¹:
- 79 percent of smartphone consumers use their phones to help with shopping (price comparisons, product reviews, locating stores)
- 70 percent of consumers use smartphones in a store
- 77 percent have contacted a business via mobile, with 61 percent calling and 59 percent visiting the local business
- For younger users (under 45) more than 50 percent already have smartphones.
In addition, a report just issued by Pew Research revealed that as of February 2012, 46% of Americans are smartphone users.
The broad adoption of mobile use has brought about a proliferation of mobile devices with varying platforms and operating systems. Given this, it is getting increasingly difficult for app developers to get complete coverage of the market with a native-only approach.
In early March, Google released some new activation numbers for their Android mobile and related figures¹:
- Total Android mobile devices in market globally: 300 million
- Daily activations: 850,000
- Android apps: 450,000
- Google controls 95% of the browser-based mobile search volume in the US; the numbers are slightly larger on a global basis.
- Android is unquestionably the leading smartphone operating system in the US, with 47 percent market share as of Q4 2011 (Apple’s iOS enjoys a 30% market share).
As digital industry analysts eMarketer recently pointed out, the US mobile advertising market is growing far faster than expected, driven by the rapid ascension of Google’s mobile search advertising business, advertisers’ growing attraction to display inventory on tablet and smartphone devices, and the growing roster of mobile ad networks such as Google’s AdMob, Apple’s iAd and Millennial Media.
- eMarketer estimates mobile advertising spending in the US reached $1.45 billion in 2011, up 89% from $769.6 million in 2010.
- This year, US mobile ad spending is projected to grow 80% to $2.61 billion.
- Mobile commerce sales in 2011 were $6.7 billion.
- Mobile commerce is expected to reach $31 billion in the US alone by 2015.
Facebook has 425 million monthly mobile users - and the platform sends more than 60 million visitors every month to apps and games. Facebook is now available on more than 2,500 different mobile devices, including feature phones as well as smartphones.
As Facebook CTO Bret Taylor stated at the 2012 Mobile World Congress, "fundamentally, Facebook is a mobile product.” He went on to say that mobile is the most natural form of the Facebook platform, and the one that founder Mark Zuckerberg would have created originally if the technology had been available at the time.²
At the Congess, Taylor also announced that Facebook is working with mobile operators to make phone-based payments easier, and has launched an effort to standardize HTML5 to help developers write applications for more mobile handsets. As Taylor noted, “We think this experience (HTML5-based mobile web) can be as good or even better than the native platforms…by having a great developer experience around billing we'll be unlocking the business potential of the mobile Web."³
These initiatives will extend Facebook’s mobile influence further, since developers won’t need to create separate apps for every platform (iOS, Android, etc.) and can just integrate Facebook’s Open Graph with a web app to reach their huge audience.
HTML5 FOR MOBILE
Given the mounting evidence, it looks like the future of the web is mobile, and the future of app development is HTML5. Why is an HTML5-based mobile web such a good thing for companies, developers and consumers? Because HTML5 is (or will soon become) more cost-effective and better performing than native apps. In short, with HTML5 you get more bang for your buck.
- Interoperability- HTML5 is interoperable, meaning you can target the largest number of mobile devices with the least amount of development effort. As such, HTML5-based web apps are more accessible to a larger body of developers.
- Cheaper Updating- Because of its interoperability, HTML5-based web apps on several platforms will be less costly than supporting separate apps programmed on multiple native operating systems.
- Time to Market- For most businesses, time to market is a critical aspect of their mobile app implementation strategy. Consistent usage of one technology for different mobile platforms will speed up the delivery process.
Web-based apps are cheaper to run across multiple platforms, they’re easier to maintain, and they make specific devices irrelevant. All these features not only lower costs, but also improve productivity.
- Easy Access- As opposed to native apps, Web-based apps provide greater access. Users can open the browser on any another device and instantly access the app directly from the Internet. Therefore, if a person forgets or misplaces their smart phone or tablet, they still access apps from other Internet-enabled devices.
- Simplicity- With web-browser-based apps, users don’t have to worry about backwards compatibility with earlier software versions of apps; with HTMl5, software versions becomes completely irrelevant. For example, when was the last time you thought about the version number of your webmail app?
- Access- Web-based apps have offline feature settings that allow data to be stored in the browser cache. This means users can run apps in places where the Internet is not available.
THE FUTURE OF MOBILE?
Admittedly, trying to predict the future of technology is a dangerous game. With the speed of innovation, orthodoxy can be turned on its head in a nanosecond. However, there is mounting evidence that the tech industry is shifting its focus from native apps to web-based applications, and I think that move is largely driven by the Internet’s move to mobile.
Google, Mozilla, Adobe and other tech industry giants agree that the web platform is being built on HTML5, and they are collaboratively pushing the boundaries of browser capabilities. Companies like Facebook are striking deals with mobile carriers to create an easier monetization process for web-based apps. Mozilla is opening up the first major online web-app store with the Mozilla Marketplace. Top executives from Google and Facebook are conceding that the mobile platform is the future of the Internet. All of these companies are supporting HTML5-driven web-based app development for its cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and high performance.
None of this means that native apps are dead, or that the Android and Apple app stores should shut down their virtual doors. Rather, the shift to the web in general and HTML5 usage in particular suggests a fundamental transition from desktop to mobile, and from proprietary to open-source. It would seem then that the future of the Internet is mobile, integrated, collaborative, and social.
¹ MarketingLand, “Google’s Top Mobile Takeaways From 2011,” and "Google's Smartphone Dominance, Tablet Weakness, and Surprising Mobile Ad Numbers"
² The Telegraph, “MWC2012: ‘Facebook should have been a mobile app’”
³ Mashable, "Facebook: We Send 60 Million People to Other Mobile Apps Every Month"