Facebook recently made several announcements on initiatives to support HTML5 as the future standard for mobile development. In conjunction with this their head of mobile developer relations also criticized Apple and Google for not doing more to support HTML5 in their browsers. This may be somewhat surprising since Steve Jobs was one of the first big proponents of HTML5 and Google has been an early supporter but the conflict of interest is quite obvious.
The reasons why they do not want HTML5 replacing native apps any time soon are:
- With native apps Google and Apple can make a 30% revenue share on paid downloads and in-app purchases whereas with HTML5 they can easily be bypassed
- Google and Android currently don’t need to compete with e.g. Opera and Firefox which both have better HTML5 support since almost everyone uses the preinstalled browser
- Native SDKs and Apps allow Google and Apple to continue differentiate versus other operating systems thanks to their much larger catalogues of apps. With mobile web they cannot claim more services than e.g. Microsoft and Blackberry
- Reliance on native apps will make it more difficult for a customer to change OS. I.e. if you rely on native apps only available for one or a few platforms then users are not as likely to switch to another OS. In addition to this switching is still difficult when it comes to syncing contacts and content
So why is Facebook so keen to make HTML5 work for them?
- The Facebook platform was designed for web and not apps. The architecture struggles to cope with web services that have to support lots of different applications.
- This leads on to the second point which is that Facebook’s native apps today are unstable and slow. Facebook probably has the worst average ratings and reviews of any major online brand.
- Facebook currently struggles to monitise mobile as Apple doesn’t allow them to take a cut on mobile games and other apps delivered through the native iOS apps. Through HTML5 mobile web they can make a 30% cut on all games and apps.
- The resources and expertise required to maintain native apps across multiple platforms are a challenge even for a big company like Facebook.
How does this impact you?
Despite Facebook’s criticism, Safari on iOS is still one of the best mobile HTML5 compatible browsers. Therefore most mobile websites will be well served on the Safari browser today and Google will most probably catch up with this in the near future with Chrome (if they have not already). However, if you are waiting for more native functionality such as photo upload, access to media, contacts and messaging services on the device and other native enablers such as push notifications, local notifications, etc then you may need to wait for a long time. Hybrids can be one alternative but to date most companies taking a hybrid approach have failed.
The story continues…
Read more about Facebook’s HTML5 initiatives at http://techcrunch.com/2012/04/20/facebook-google-apple-html5/
Update: Facebook later the same week clarified that the number one priority right is to grow the apps available for mobile with monitisation through ads rather than premium revenue in the short term. Read more at http://techcrunch.com/2012/04/24/facebook-revenue-share-apps/