Facebook official: HTML5 backers need to step up mobile efforts

Performance, distribution and ability to make money all need to be improved, he said

Everyone involved with HTML5 on mobile devices needs to step up their efforts and solve issues with performance and monetization in order for the technology to reach its true potential, according to Facebook developer advocate Simon Cross.

On Wednesday, Cross took part in panel discussion dubbed "Is HTML5 the future?" at the Apps World conference in London and was right away asked to address the comments made by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg last month when he said that Facebook's biggest mistake was betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native mobile apps.

"I think we have to separate HTML5 on the desktop Web from HTML5 on the mobile Web. On the desktop it is like done. It is awesome, and it's the future. On mobile it could be the future, but like any good technology it needs to prove itself," said Cross.

Zuckerberg's statement poured some cold water on the technology. But Cross pointed out that Zuckerberg also said that he is extremely bullish on HTML5.

Even though Facebook has changed the way it develops its mobile applications to rely on native coding, it still has a huge stake in the future success of HTML5. That's because there are more users on the company's HTML5-based mobile website than on the iOS and Android applications combined.

Today, there are three things that Facebook thinks are holding back HTML5-based mobile apps: performance, including both rendering speed and access to native features on devices; distribution; and monetization, which is the most important one, according to Cross.

For monetization the Holy Grail is standardized carrier billing, which would make it easier to do micropayments and charge for subscriptions, according to Cross.

Raw performance will improve, and there will come a time when HTML5-based apps are good enough compared to native applications. However, there isn't much Facebook can do to hurry that along, Cross said.

But when it comes to hurrying along the addition of more features, the social networking giant is getting more involved. For example, it's doing so via the W3C's Core Mobile (CoreMob) Web Platform Community Group, whose goal is to accelerate "the development of modern mobile web applications."

"We want users to be able to take a picture from m.facebook.com using the native camera, for example. That is something we really care about," said Cross.

With a member list that includes operators, device makers and developers, CoreMob is the largest group of its kind within the W3C, and is working on improving features such as AppCache. The HTML5 feature allows for off-line access, faster load times and reduced server load.

The panel also highlighted other areas that need to be improved including the addition of DRM and better interoperability between browsers.

The good news is that W3C is working to solve all those issues in different ways and in different places, according to panel participant Robin Berjon, who edits the HTML specification.

"The billing issues are definitely being worked on. In terms of features we have a lot in the pipeline," said Berjon.

The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) has started the System Applications Working Group. Its aim is to produce a runtime environment and a set of APIs that let trusted applications integrate closely with the operating system, according to its website.

To help the industry along even further, W3C is also putting a lot of resources into testing to improve the lack of interoperability between browsers. As part of the Move The Web Forward initiative it is sponsoring hackathons called Test The Web Forward.

"We are reaching out to the developer community and working with a number of large sponsors in order to get a lot of people involved in testing," said Berjon.

More testing will put pressure on browser vendors, because they really don't like to have public information about failed tests, according to Berjon.

Facebook is also intimately involved in browser testing with the mobile web browser test suite Ringmark, which has been open sourced. It consists of three "rings," or levels, that include different levels of functionality. Ringmark tests both the availability of features and whether the features have been implemented well.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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