10 reasons why your mobile strategy should include HTML5 – Pietro Catello, Buongiorno

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Every week, we ask  our members to sum up everything we need to know about a given topic in 10 easy-to-digest bites.  This week Pietro Catello, MEF EMEA board director and regional B2C director – Northern & Central EU, Russia, South Africa and APAC for Buongiorno, shares ten key insights in to HTML5.

Although you may already be familiar with HTML5, now is a great time to take a closer look at the main advantages and opportunities that this constantly evolving technology brings to mobile-focused businesses.

First, a definition, quoted from the aptly-named website, HTML5 Rocks:

“HTML5 is not a single thing or a monolithic technology… [It] includes the fifth revision of the HTML markup language, CSS3, and a series of JavaScript APIs. Together, these technologies enable you to create complex applications that previously could be created only for desktop platforms.”

So, let’s get right into it.

1. HTML5 is the future that is ready to use here and now

In survey after survey, developers all over the world agree that the hype is over and they are investing their time and money into learning the technology and contributing to its ongoing development.

Html5Important media companies and influencers are showing the way. Check out this video interview of leading investor Roger McNamee with Charlie Rose. 12 minutes into the video he says, “HTML5 is the programming language around which the web is built… the logical strategy is to obsolete apps and give publishers total control.”

The Financial Times has gone all-in on HTML5. Two years after launching its HTML5 apps, FT.com’s managing director Rob Grimshaw asserts: “I challenge anyone to tell the difference between our HTML5 app and a native app. There is no drawback to working in HTML5, and there are lots of advantages.”

Jason Pontin, the publisher of the MIT Technology Review, agrees: “The future of media on mobile devices isn’t with applications but with the Web…we’ll follow the Financial Times in using HTML5, so that our Web pages will look great on a laptop or desktop, tablet, or smart phone. Then we’ll kill our apps, too.”

2. Write once, read everywhere

How would you like to have your mobile app to be instantly available on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry and Symbian devices? Just code it in HTML5.

While there are still some differences among browsers and mobile operating systems, these pose minor obstacles and are orders of magnitude less time-consuming than developing for multiple proprietary platforms.

Which leads me to my next reason…

3. Universal sharing

If your app is not instantly shareable on social networks, or even via email, you are at a great disadvantage. The greatest unsolved problem of app distribution today is discovery, and discovery is shifting from search and advertising to word of mouth and friend-to-friend recommendations.

HTML5 apps run in all modern mobile browsers, so you never have to wonder if your friend will able to use that great new app you just discovered.

And let’s not forget that most people don’t really care about the native versus HTML5 app debate. Here’s a great example. When the Wall Street Journal published its latest top 10 apps for the iPhone “on the App Store”, the very first app they picked was Forecast.io, an HTML5 mobile app that is “downloaded” simply by loading its URL in your mobile browser. The app is not found in the iTunes Apps Store, runs beautifully on the iPhone, looks and feels like a native iOS app and you can “install” the app simply by saving its icon to the iPhone’s screen.


4. Automatic updates

TamagotchiAre you old enough to remember the Tamagotchi, the digital pet that you had to “feed” everyday? If you currently own a smartphone with decent selection of apps, you’ll be painfully aware of the need to regularly update your apps and sync your phone on a daily basis (if you are obsessed about it), or at least once a week.

Since HTML5 apps are essentially mobile web sites designed to have the look and feel of a native app, you are always accessing the latest version without ever having to check. The app just loads with the current version on the server. No fuss, no muss.

5. App Store independence

When you own your own HTML5 app, you don’t need to go through the app store approval process or wait for your app to processed and uploaded to the store. And, of course, you do not need to share your revenue with the owner of the store.

On the business side, since HTML5 is a non-proprietary standard, the mobile telephone carriers are more than eager to partner with content creators and publishers that do not have to rely on costly platform licenses and operating system restrictions.

Now that some major carriers (América Móvil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Three Group, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia Group, Telefónica, Telenor, TMN and VimpelCom) and device manufacturers (Alcatel (TCL), Huawei, LG and ZTE) and even chip makers (Qualcomm with the Snapdragon chipset and Intel through their HTML5 App Development Environment) have joined with Mozilla to support HTML5 mobile development, the ecosystem is really starting to take shape.

extreme-html

6. Multimedia ready

HTML5 is currently able to handle video and audio integration, animations, 3-D renderings and sophisticated graphics.

Need convincing? Just check out this post on examples of extreme HTML5!

7. Hardware integration about to takeoff

One complaint that you will often hear about mobile HTML5 apps is that they are not able to interact with the smartphone’s hardware as well as native apps can do. While this is undeniably true at the moment, things are changing very fast.

The web’s standards organization, the W3C, has empowered the Device APIs Working Group to work on standards for apps to interact with hardware features such as the camera, vibrator, battery status, compass and accelerometer, as well as stored information such as contacts.

Expect to see capable HTML5-ready smartphones and feature phones to be widely available in the not-to-distant future.

In the meantime, developers looking for a workaround can take advantage of hybrid frameworks to contain the HTML5 app in a native container that can access the hardware directly.

8. Open standards

The fact that HTML5 is an open standard, along with its main supporting technologies, CSS and Javascript, means that the technology is being pushed forward by a huge global community of mobile web developers and the legions of companies, large and small, that are investing heavily in these tried and true standards.

There is no problem that tens of thousands of smart, passionate and hard-driving developers can’t solve!

9. Repurpose web content

Publishers and content providers already have large archives of great material that are not formatted for use on mobile devices, but are already web-friendly.

The intelligent use of HTML5 can turn this content into smartphone apps with modest investments.

The validity of this approach was endorsed in this recent profile of Reed Hastings, the visionary CEO of Netflix: “The one new nugget here is a Hastings prediction, held by many other people, that we’re moving to a world where ‘apps replace channels.’ Hastings mentions apps nearly 3 dozen times in his essay, and makes it clear that he sees Netflix first and foremost as an app provider.”

Adding fuel to this fire, HTML5 is first and foremost a technology designed to share content among different “pages”, regardless of the server on which they sit. When app designers start to really stretch this concept, the potential of HTML5 mobile apps to access content across different silos will be revolutionary both for publishers and consumers.

10. The tech is up to snuff

This is not a developer-oriented post, so I’m not going to get all nerdy, but you will certainly hear a lot of people saying that HTML5 is just not mature enough to invest serious time and money – mainly because the technology is still inferior to natively-coded apps.

Certainly, if you need close integration with the physical device or the maximum level of performance for a CPU-intensive application, then a native app is probably the way to go. But there is an enormous universe of apps that do not have those requirements.

HTML5 Rocks sums it up nicely: read through the myriad of rich HTML5 features from multimedia and graphics, offline and storage, performance, security, local file access, presentation and real-time communication.

If you can’t see how your company’s mobile strategy can take advantage of the HTML5 opportunity, you’re not looking hard enough!

Pietro Catello is Regional B2C Director – Northern & Central EU, Russia, South Africa and APAC for Buongiorno and serves on the board of directors for MEF EMEA. You can follow Pietro and Buongiorno on twitter.

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