Native Apps vs HTML 5 Apps

    Posted in News & Stuff    |    3 Comments

The debate at the moment regarding native mobile vs. HTML 5.0 apps is an interesting debate to say the least. Whilst our position on this topic should be relatively obvious having developed native apps, we still wanted to provide an objective viewpoint.

Lets first take a look at native apps. Native apps are strong in a number of ways that HTML apps just simply can’t compete with. When we want a high gloss, easy to navigate, feature rich and fast responding mobile application it has to be native all the way. Native applications are designed in short to run natively, taking full advantage of devices hardware graphics acceleration hard disk, memory and other hardware resources. If you also add integration with other applications such as the phones photo library, the user’s address book and the geo location services, we can see that what are basic features for a native app that are just impossible for an HTML app.

Now I am not saying that you can’t have an easy to navigate and feature rich HTML app, however from a usability perspective the native app will win hands down as the user experience of the native app will always far exceed the HTML app. We are assuming here that we are talking about the same well designed app being developed in both technologies competing against each other, badly designed apps will always be bad, regardless of the technology behind them.

Functionality aside, let’s talk about the relationship that people have with mobile apps. The world is fast moving in the technology arena and mobile is definitely one of the fastest areas of technology progression with regards to social impact. Smartphones in many cases are starting to replace other electronic devices such as laptops and now many non-electronic lifestyle items such as wallets. I strongly believe that we have started to see what is soon to become the norm, people running and managing their lives through a series of mobile apps that they choose to install on their phones. Now faced with the choice to install an app to service a function that is of use, if there are two apps both capable of performing the same task, however one is native and one is HTML, which would you install? The one that is the most enjoyable and simple to use.

Native apps can do far more than HTML apps. If you want to develop an application tomorrow to create a guitar tuner, this application would have to be done natively. The guitar tuner application would need to take advantage of many of the native resources available to the device such as its microphone and speaker. This app simply couldn’t be built using HTML technologies as there is no API into the smartphones microphone or speaker from HTML or JavaScript, even if there were it would be slow in comparison to a native app. If you simply want to allow the user to add your clients company phone number to their Contacts, better go native. If you want to save some user settings, in an HTML app you can save a cookie and hope when the user clears their other cookies, they leave yours alone.

So what is an HTML app if it can’t make use of the devices resources and services?

An HTML app is nothing other than a mobile optimised website making use of some very clever mobile web technologies such as jQT and iWebKit for instance. Lets not mistake that actually it is no more of an app to a mobile device than a website is an app to a desktop or laptop. It just has some clever mobile optimised JavaScript and CSS libraries that can be used to create nice animation and interaction for the user on the mobile device. Many of these mobile frameworks are simply copying the style of view components that exist on the devices natively anyhow.

This sounds like I am being negative towards HTML apps, well in fact I’m not, they just are what they are. As I said there is some very clever technology that goes into optimising web sites for mobile.

So if HTML apps are not able to outperform native apps why develop them?

Well the answer is quite simple. There are two factors here that sway people towards HTML apps. The first is platform interoperability. An HTML app can be developed once and used by multiple mobile platforms such as iPhone, Android and Blackberry. A native phone app built using Apple IOS will only run on iPhone meaning that native apps requiring deployment onto multiple platforms require re-developing for each supported platform.

This brings us around to the second factor, which is in fact a by-product of the first, cost. Working with web technologies it is quick to get results compared to development in IOS and Java, especially IOS, lengthy development cycles for multiple platforms is not a cheap exercise. So the reality is that it is quick to develop, only has to be developed once and with a couple of tweaks you can get an HTML app ready for a multiplatform launch quickly and much cheaper.

Is an HTML app the right platform choice for me? Well if speed to market and price of development are the key drivers then in short, yes. You will however be massively limited to exactly what you can deliver functionally to your user base, as you won’t be able to take advantage of any of the devices native resources.

However if you are more focused on the benefit that your customers get from your applications, then native is the only way to go.

Ed Stark
The Technical People Ltd


  1. silver account
    September 6, 2012

    In contrast, native apps are installed on the Android phone, they have access to the hardware (speakers, accelerometer, camera, etc.), and they are written with Java. The defining characteristic of a native app, however, is that it’s available in the Android Market–a feature that has captured the imagination of a horde of software entrepreneurs worldwide, me included.

  2. Panama
    September 20, 2012

    Summary: We could be on the cusp of a shift away from native apps and going full-throttle towards the dominance of HTML5.

  3. gold account
    September 26, 2012

    Your own world. Native apps are all about you – your content, your users, your brand. But with a web app, while users may start off in your world, with one errant click Safari can take them to a completely unrelated website with no clear way back. This can’t happen in a native app.

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