HTML 5 vs Mobile Apps

Years ago, Google predicted that mobile search would be bigger than PC search and that applications for mobile phones would be replaced by Web sites designed specifically for mobiles. Since that time, mobile search has indeed seen explosive growth with the rapid development of smart phones, helped along in large part thanks to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android mobile operating system.

The iPhone’s biggest selling point is the >250,000 mobile applications available to download from Apple’s iTunes store (some for free, some paid), along with all their media content. Android is catching up fast with over 100,000 applications available in their ‘Market’.

While Apple are control freaks and like to moderate everything that happens on their devices, adopting a ‘walled garden’ approach to mobile internet, Google prefer to allow anyone and everyone to write software for their Android platform. A strategy which seems to be working as Android devices now outsell their iPhone rivals.

Google probably realise that mobile applications are merely an intermediate step in the evolution of mobile content. Developing a mobile phone application for every major smartphone OS is very expensive and time consuming. Apple probably hopes that this situation will persist as they can really control the content on their smartphones and iPods and hope to maintain their market advantage. Many mobile applications never get released on iTunes, without Apple so much as explaining why they won’t approve them. Indeed, Apple doesn’t allow Flash on their phones at all!

HTML 5 could replace the large majority of mobile applications as many of them do not require advanced functionality that is beyond the capabilities of its language. It would also dramatically lower the cost for anyone wanting to offer their product or service across the major smartphone OS’s.  So why aren’t HTML 5 sites already replacing mobile applications?

There are a few reasons. HTML 5 is not an official standard yet, and different browsers offer different HTML 5 compatibility. Therefore it is still difficult for Web developers to create mobile ‘applications’ using HTML 5 which will work perfectly across the major smartphones. Secondly, Apple won’t get behind HTML 5 sites for mobiles as they are making far too much money from iTunes apps. Thirdly, Apple/Google/Microsoft/Nokia need to work out a way for users to easily find and ‘bookmark’ their favourite HTML 5 sites and access them via icons on their phone.

I foresee an HTML 5 ‘marketplace’ being created by someone (if it doesn’t already exist) and catching on in the not too distant future. Web developers and designers can then show off what they can do with HTML 5 and hopefully have as much success as some of the mobile application developers. The whole point of the Internet is that it is open and (largely) free. Google appears to understand this concept and is helping it come to mobiles with Android. The ‘walled garden’ concept pioneered by AOL failed and we have to hope won’t hang around for long on mobiles either.

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