It’s been interesting to continue to watch the fallout of Facebook’s native announcement because so many smart people are discussing the web versus native dynamic. What I find both fascinating and odd (yet unsurprising) is that “HTML5″ continues to have vague and very subjective connotations. In the context of this debate, HTML5 seems to really mean hybrid applications that are built with technologies like Cordova/PhoneGap. And for proponents of native that’s a great way to frame the debate because when compared on equal ground, native will win most of the time. That’s because native apps were meant to be apps whereas PhoneGap/Cordova apps are really web content that’s built to behave in an application world. The suit will never fit quite as well as it does on Mr. Native.
But in some ways, that’s not the point. The real debate, and the most important one is the role of the web in the future of mobile devices. Currently there are number of techniques to bring the web to mobile devices. There’s responsive design, there’s the m-dot, there’s PhoneGap/Cordova, etc. They all have specific plusses and minuses depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. But they’re also all very rooted in the ethos of the web.
When people talk about HTML5 versus native it’s often going to be in the app context. And then the narrative can become “HTML5 isn’t ready”. That’s bullshit. HTML as a technology is more than ready to help you create apps and content for mobile devices. You may not get access to every device API and it may not fit into an app store, but the corollary is that you don’t need an app store. You can create whatever content you want and give it to the world. You have to make sure the experience is good on devices, but you don’t have to pass anyone’s arbitrary test to play the game, you don’t have to lock yourself into a specific platform. You just create your experience and let the world decide if it’s worth visiting. And users still do a ton of interacting with the web on their phone through a browser.
The image above, from PhoneGap Day EU during a talk by Facebook’s Simon Cross, perfectly illustrates that. There’s definitely a legitimate argument to be made that part of the reason the web usage is so high is because the hybrid Facebook apps were horrible to use. But look at the graph again. Mobile web usage is levels of magnitude above the native apps. That’s not just from a bad experience. That’s because people spend a lot of time in their browser on smartphones.
We’re in a fantastic time for the mobile web because there are so many options for creating mobile web content. But no matter how you want to show your content, it’s never a good idea to ignore the mobile web. Every great app I can think of has some tie to the web. Foursquare, Yelp, Untappd, and Twitter. The native app experience is a critical part- and it may even provide the best experience currently- but the web is even more vital to the long term survival of those companies. Never, ever discount HTML and the web. You’ll regret it. You can ask Path in a year how it feels.Tweet