One of the biggest inherent drawbacks to mobile development is the gap between various operating systems. Writing apps for Android, Apple’s iOS, Microsoft’s Window Phone and other OSes all are different operations. This didn’t matter too much when mobility was a lazy backwater, but is a big deal today as enterprises and commercial developers try to keep up with exploding demand.
The goal is to write once for any OS. There are companies that provide “frameworks” that enable this sort of development. They are seen, however, as workarounds. A main initiative to confront the challenge head on is the fifth version of the Hyper Text Markup Language, HTML5. The idea is that HTML5 will have the functionality required to enable services to be written and accessed via a Web interface instead of in downloaded apps.
The importance of HTML5 was discussed by Renee James, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Software Services Group, at the company’s Developer Forum this week in San Francisco. eWeek reported on her comments:
By leveraging HTML5, developers can move away from having to focus their energy and resources on a single platform, and consumers can have everything from their data to their identities move seamlessly from one device platform to another. They essentially will be able to access their Android apps on their iPhones or their Windows-based smartphones.
The day before, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg participated in a question-and-answer with Michael Arrington, the founder and former co-editor of TechCrunch at the site’s Disrupt conference, also in San Francisco. The conversation started with a discussion of Facebook’s IPO and share price before moving (no doubt to Zuckerberg’s relief) to other topics, including HTML5. Forbes reported on Zuckerberg’s take on HTML5:
Facebook’s biggest mistake was focusing virtually all its mobile efforts on HTML5, Zuckerberg said. The company decided that instead of native apps on iOS or Android it would focus on letting people access Facebook through a browser. It turned out the performance was not up to standards.
That was one of the news hits from the high-profile “fireside chat.” However, reports also pointed out that Zuckerberg was not broadly damning HTML5, just Facebook’s implementation. ZDNet’s Ben Woods offers the rest of what Zuckerberg said on the topic (he credited the quote to Facebook engineer Tobie Langel):
It's not that HTML5 is bad. I'm actually, on long-term, really excited about it. One of the things that's interesting is we actually have more people on a daily basis using mobile web Facebook than we have using our iOS or Android apps combined. So mobile web is a big thing for us.
Woods suggests that much of the wheel spinning that Zuckerberg referred to was in attempt to create hybrid Web-based and OS-specific apps. In such a scenario, the workload is somehow divided between the particular OS and the Web, which is accessed via HTML5.
The two executives’ comments seemed more at odds than they really were. Zuckerberg and James seem to agree that HTML5 has potential as way to move beyond the cumbersome OS-specific environment that exists today. The difference is that James sees it as a near-future initiative, while Zuckerberg suggests his company moved prematurely.