Home » HTML5 vs. Mobile Apps: The Good, Bad, and Ugly?

HTML5 vs. Mobile Apps: The Good, Bad, and Ugly?

Lindsay Tjepkema
Lindsay Tjepkema , Global Head of Content , Emarsys

After meeting with one of our clients, my colleague Alex Timlin from the U.K office wrote about Mobile Responsive Design versus Mobile Apps, and I wanted to develop this conversation.

Leaving aside the debate on which mobile operating systems is the best, let’s focus on some historical facts for the rise of the apps:

  • Most websites today were or are created using HTML version 2 or 3 that dates back to the ’90s with not much change in capabilities since then (leaving HTML5 aside).
  • The launch of the first iPhone and Apple’s big push – these were the pioneers with app store development and marketing since July 2008 and allowed developers to have a demand platform and access to millions of users.
  • The rise of smartphone use and the effect on the day-to-day life applications such as e-commerce, gaming, utilities, and communication dictated that the UI and multimedia capabilities should be suitable for smartphones. With no-go for Flash on iOS and restrictions on HTML multimedia capabilities, the only way to go was mobile apps.
  • Mobile apps are easy to install, manage, and updated with great usability.


But hold on, so why change? Or what’s the drawback in mobile apps?

  1. Reliance on two main distributors in the world of mobile: Apple and Google. You have to be compatible with different operating systems and versions. You must also develop under their supervision and instructions. If they don’t like what you do, your marketing channel is closed!
  2. If you manage a mobile app, you’re competing for limited space and attention in each device. The average user downloads 37 apps, with the trend forecasted downwards. Think about how many apps you can use and are willing to have on your mobile?
  3. Proprietary technology forces programs to know different languages and for companies to invest in various apps for various systems that are not compatible.
  4. Have I mentioned the profit sharing with Apple and Google?

You see where I am going with this?

What’s next? HTML5, obviously. HTML5 was built to replace HTML4 with work starting as early as 2004 but things really became mainstream in 2010 when then-CEO Steve Jobs issued a public letter titled “Thoughts on Flash”, where he concluded that “[Adobe] Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content” and that “new open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win.”

In short, this technology allows companies to program on a non-proprietary and familiar technology that supports multimedia like videos and animation with great UI capabilities and gestures such as swiping, tapping, dragging, and dropping. It’s built to support mobile devices without the need to create and support different apps and no marketing restrictions in the shape of app stores.

So why didn’t more marketers jump on this wagon already while we still have a lot of hype around apps? There is still scarcity in the market for programmers who are familiar with HTML5 and the number of early adopters is still not big enough. Moreover, development costs are still relatively expensive and there are still different versions of mobile operating systems that don’t support HTML5.

A good example of an early adopter is the Financial Times, which decided to drop its native apps development and focus completely on HTML5. Kudos for that. More on FT.com experience with HTML5.

To sum up my argument, in my opinion, HTML5 will prevail although it is not there yet.

Because HTML5 = the web and as web technology for mobile continues to improve, consumers will adopt more HTML5 apps. But it will take a while… (Source: Business Insider)

Lastly, for those of you who have doubts on what you should be doing (HTML5 or native apps?), if you have money and time go for both and let the users decide what’s best for them. Otherwise, analyse your traffic and the interaction of your users or even ask them to make a decision on your direction.

In this case HTML is the ugly when it renders on smartphones, so what are the good and the bad? I’ll leave it for you to decide.

Till next time, stay tuned.