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Apps, a continuing debate: HTML5 vs. Native

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.


Comments: (3)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 21 August, 2012, 19:26Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes It has to be native for banking: 1. More secure 2. Limited content management requirements 3. Your design should be based on the platform and interaction model (HTML5 doesn't solve that) 4. Platforms will keep releasing native functionality that won't be ready for HTML5
Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 23 August, 2012, 16:38Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Appcelerator, Rhomobile - these are a couple of cross-app mobile development IDEs that enable development of a single codebase that can be deployed on iOS, Android and a couple of other mobile platforms. Having heard such stories before, we were very skeptical when we started development of a mobile LBS app using one such platform. But, at the end, we were pleasantly surprised. Despite the fact that our app needed to use GPS, accelerometer, camera and other device functionality, we were able to deploy a single code base on iPhone and two different makes of Android phones without any changes. Such IDEs might help banks and others to strike the right cost-benefit balance between native and mobile web apps.   

Nealle Page
Nealle Page - Looking for new opportunities - London 30 August, 2012, 12:47Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

In my view it is horses for courses, and HTML5 will not always be the right answer to the problems you are trying to solve.  

The promise of write once, run everywhere is not there yet too, so you have the burden of testing on multiple platforms anyway.  

If you are also worried about security and data leakage like most people in the industries represented on Finextra ought to be, HTML5 does not give you the security and data protection that you would want.  

I agree with the idea that you should have a very clear concept of what you intend to achieve with your mobile applications and then chose the most pragmatic way forward.  

Like an old boss used to say, just becasue you can doesn't mean you should.   

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