HTML5 Canned for Facebook iOS App: Has the Code Been Cracked?

By | Sep 12, 2012

HTML5 is supposed to dominate the Internet, or so midsize admins keep hearing. Google, Microsoft, and, especially, Apple have championed its use in a broad sense, but with strategic nonuses when a native code was easier. Now, however, the supposed up-and-coming Internet standard has suffered another setback as Facebook chooses to abandon it for their iOS app, using Objective-C instead. The short-term result? A faster app. Long term, the social site insists it isn't moving away from HTML, but the performance of mobile-native code may make this a bumpy ride.

HTML Hell?

HTML5 offers a number of benefits over device-specific code; according to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees its development, it is "the most interoperable format in the industry, working on thousands of devices with sufficient function and performance for almost all applications." But as a recent InfoWorld article reports, Facebook has redone its iOS app using Objective-C, producing a user experience that is much faster and reliable than the one built on HTML.

Facebook developer Jonathan Dann states that while HTML code allows the social site to write only once for multiple mobile platforms, it was "falling short" on the iPhone and didn't justify giving users a less-than-optimal experience. The site maintains that it won't be abandoning its support of the code entirely, but right now those are just pretty words. Analyst Josh Martin says that although HMTL5 won't crumble even for lack of Facebook support, it also won't rule the roost anytime soon.

For midsize IT admins, the fight over Internet and mobile device code isn't top priority, but they can expect the market to be in somewhat of a shambles for the next few years as app developers experiment with both HTML and native apps. It's expected that many will use HTML for noncritical apps that don't need access to cutting edge APIs, while others will develop hybrid apps in an effort to upgrade performance. Simply put, IT pros will need to know a little bit about everything when it comes to managing app headaches and won't see a substantive change in the near future.

The Short End

Right now, HTML5 isn't winning the mobile war, and, with technologies like Silverlight and Flash, moving away from the code is in for even more trouble on mobile devices, according to an article at ZDNet. What's odd is that some of the code's weaknesses for mobile developers actually come from what admins would expect to be strengths. For example, it's a real standard, one being developed by multiple stakeholders, rather than a proprietary mobile technology that doesn't play nice with others. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of and chief of the W3C (and one of HTML's most fervent defenders) argues that "native apps are taking away from the web" but that his developed standard is being stabilized as well as having improved security and access control.

Unfortunately, that's not really what matters. While developers want a code that works across platforms and has substantive backing, what they need, at least in the short term, is one that provides a smooth user experience. Gone are the days when technology was distributed to installed customer bases and they simply had to make due; now, if apps don't work as users want they'll simply move on to the next one. Developers can succeed or fail on simple things like how quickly their app updates or if it scrolls "smoothly" enough.

Don't count HTML5 out. It works on smartphones, across most platforms, and can shorten development times noticeably. But with big players like Facebook walking away from the code--even if it's only a few steps--there's a possibility that it will become another outsider technology and users will be hemmed in by "owned" apps that don't play nice with other mobile friends. In a world where cloud computing gives the impression that devices anywhere, anytime, should be able to interact with one another, midsize IT admins are understandably hoping for the same from their company's mobile apps. This may happen, but not without a fight; being better for users over time doesn't translate to easy growth in the tech market.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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