I wrote my last blog about the Future of Mobile Banking Conference more than two months ago, before a busy June, summer holidays, and the Olympics. It’s now time to meet my promise to highlight some of the key points of discussion.
One topic which came up several times was the on-going debate between HTML5 and native apps. It’s an interesting debate and an important one, since the decision not only affects the technologies which you will use, but also the resources you will hire, the
development and maintenance costs you will pay, and the resultant quality, usability, and performance of your mobile apps. For this reason, a lot of clients with which I have spoken are still struggling to define their mobile development strategy and take
a decision one way or the other.
As I wrote in a previous blog, the native route provides the highest level of usability and performance. However, to reach a wide audience a bank would have to build and maintain code in multiple technologies. Each of the four major mobile platforms (Apple
iOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows Mobile, RIM Blackberry) has different programming languages and environments. On the other hand, HTML5 is a common denominator to all platforms. It provides a rich user interface, but it does not give the same high level
of functional integration with the mobile device’s functionalities (phone, camera, GPS, compass, calendar, contacts, accelerometer, etc.).
Since the last time I wrote on this topic, more tools have been released to the market, each giving a different approach to building rich HTML5-based mobile applications. On the “light” side, there are programming libraries like JQuery Mobile which facilitate
building web-based apps which look like native apps but which run within the browser. On the “heavy” side, there are mobile enterprise application platforms, such as SAP’s Unwired Platform, which allow developers to build native apps for multiple operating
systems, but with a single code base.
In between, there is a lot of competition, including Sencha Touch and Adobe PhoneGap, probably the two most popular tools on the market. To make things even more complicated, many of these technologies can be combined. No wonder companies are struggling
to take a decision!
I suspect that the debate between HTML5 and native apps will not quickly disappear. HTML5 is no panacea: natively written mobile apps have a finish quality that is still not easy to match. But more and more it’s not a question of black or white. The tools
on the market today give a wide range of choices and I don’t suspect that there will be convergence any time soon.
While some applications require a simple interface and wide distribution, others require a highly dynamic interface and tight integration with the mobile phone functionalities. Some banks will decide that the former is the most cost effective approach, one
that gives them the biggest bang for their buck. Others will decide that money is no object, and to give their customers the highest level of usability, only a native app will suffice. In the end, it’s a matter of selecting the right technology solution to
match the business goals.