There is a lot of buzz about HTML5 right now. I tend to follow quite a few of the movers and shakers in the tech world who constantly jump ship to the next big thing, forever investing their time and effort in the latest technology. When said technology eventually becomes mature enough to actually use, another new shiny thing comes along and they all make the jump again. In some ways I’m just as guilty, but I like to think I’m grounded by a heavy dose of pragmatism.

Write once Run everywhere

HTML5 is carrying with it the hope of unifying the user experience on mobile and web. Write once, run everywhere. Cheeper development and maintenance. Code reuse between Android, iOS and Windows. The trouble is this isn’t going to happen. At lest not any time soon. And even if it did, chances are it would still be a second class solution.

At this point, the HTML5 people will no doubt be up in arms so let me get one thing straight. I’m a developer. I write mobile apps. If there was a solution out there that would mean we could write excellent apps in half the time across multiple devices I would use it. But I dont believe HTML5 is or will be the magic bullet (just as Adobe Air and so many others have proved to be…un-magical).

So what about the Apps

If HTML5 is the way to go then Google and Facebook, of all people, would be showering us with a plethora of webby wonder? In actual fact, Google’s HTML5 web apps are some of the best there are. But they pail when compared to their native counterparts. Case in point. Rather than championing their web versions they hedge their bets by releasing full blown native apps on every popular platform. And these apps continue to outshine their non-native brothers and sisters. Just recently the Facebook app for iPad has been leaked onto the internet. While outfits such as the Financial Times try to claw back subscription fees by releasing App store dodging HTML5 apps, Facebook develops a full on native solution. Why? It’s simply…better.

HTML5 is a very immature technology and rather than bringing useful new stuff to the table it takes stuff away and leaves you wanting. It only competes in terms of its cross-platform capability and hence total cost to market. Now, this may be enough in the long term. MP3′s were not as good as CD’s. Digital cameras could not compete with film. They still became popular because they were convenient (another reason BluRay is DOA, but I digress). Eventually they became as good as or better than the tech they replaced. But is convenience and price enough to lure those invested in mobile to HTML5? Why on earth should Apple release an HTML5 suite of controls? Do they need to worry when they have a huge developer base and prediction busting year on year growth? No. Not yet. Maybe not at all. And if they don’t, HTML5 loses one of the main things its got going for it.

The Universal Language for the User Interface?

Perhaps I should elaborate on my comment above. Some of you may be wondering why I said Apple would need to ‘invest’ in a suite of HTML5 controls? The reason I say that is because I don’t think pure web based HTML5 apps have a chance on mobile at all! I can really only see HTML5 taking root  if, like Microsoft is attempting to do with Windows 8, it ceases to be a browser only technology and becomes instead the universal language for UI.

One of the things I’m growing to appreciate about Apple is that they don’t change course unless there is a good reason. They build on and improve their existing platforms and they don’t include technology in their phones and tablets until it is mature and proven. If you want to see the contrast and the confusion that is rife in the Microsoft camp at the moment, may I direct you to this article. HTML5 is not at all ready to be taken beyond the web. Yet. Sure, it’s interesting but its not revolutionary; for anything other than the web, it is a definite backwards step at the moment. You can do some nice things with it, but for the next few years at least, native app development will continue to outperform and outshine.

Conclusion

When HTML5 matures, when it jumps down out of the cloud, when it becomes the universal language of the user interface…then things might get interesting. But for that to happen, the big guns in the mobile space have to want it to happen. It has to be in their interest. And for the time being at least, the market is not mature enough. The battle lines are still being drawn up. No one is ready to consent or compromise on a universal platform. So we wait. HTML5 continues its trundle ever closer while ‘native’ development sprints on past. Maybe one day we will be developing native apps in HTML5? Or maybe we’ll have given up on that idea to embrace something even more shiny, new and immature.

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