Making HTML5 work now for mobile app development

HTML5 is still evolving, but in the current mobile landscape, proponents are finding ways around its limitations.

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2012 wasn't a great year for HTML5. If it were a football team, the markup language would be at the bottom of its division. But just as the most banged-up team has its diehard fans, companies using HTML5 for mobile application development are not giving up on the would-be standard's cross-platform appeal just yet.

Still, they're not exactly cheering recent developments either:

HTML5 has usability issues. When German social games developer Wooga abandoned its HTML5 efforts last June, it cited problems beyond performance. Specifically, HTML5 apps usually require an Internet connection to load and frequently use, which brings up concerns about discoverability and connectivity.

It has reputation issues. The most notable slam was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's announcement at TechCrunch in September that "the biggest mistake we've made as a company is betting on HTML5 over native [code]."

And it has ongoing performance issues. "Performance breaks down with applications that have heavy graphics," explains Jeffrey Hammond, principal analyst for application development and delivery at Forrester Research. Performance is also a problem, he adds, when too many users try to access the same Web application at the same time.

All that said, at least some developers believe the industry will iron out the kinks. After all, HTML5 proponents like to note, Zuckerberg later said in his speech, "It's not that HTML5 is bad. I'm actually, long-term, really excited about it."

Short term, many developers would agree with Luv Tulsidas, director of Web development for car rental company Hertz, who says, "There are some things it's very good at, but HTML is not very mature." With two standards bodies dueling over development, and different browsers offering varying support for new features, HTML is a "living standard" -- which means, from a developer's point of view, it's never "done."

But developers love a challenge. Here's why at least some of them -- from small development houses to media companies like The New York Times to enterprises such as Hertz and children's book publisher Scholastic -- remain optimistic that HTML5 is the best choice for cross-platform mobile app development, and how they're coping as the standard evolves.

Where HTML5 makes sense

Who's using HTML5, and why? Forrester's Hammond estimates native development accounts for about 60% of mobile development and HTML5 for 40%. He estimates 10% use middleware options as well (see Tools and middleware for details).

"We are looking at HTML5 because there are so many devices out there," says Saad Ayub, Scholastic CIO. "[Developing for all of them is] driving costs up significantly. If we move to HTML5 instead of developing native apps, that will give us the ability to go to market faster."

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