Mobile development: The pros of HTML5, hybrid, native applications

Whether to make use of a hybrid, HTML5 or a native application depends on each specific situation.

People want to access information whenever they need it, and HTML5 helped make that happen across mobile platforms in a big way last year, according to John Elliott, managing director, product and offering development, Accenture Mobility. Software experts agree, noting HTML5's huge success has brought up a hotly debated question: Is it time to kiss native applications goodbye?

Where HTML5 wins

HTML5 logo; Photo credit to w3 websitePhoto credit: w3 website

Once an HTML5 mobile application is developed, it can run on multiple platforms, thus saving organizations time and money. That's just one of the reasons why HTML5 advocates prefer it to native applications. Others point to HTML5's

  • lower cost than native in the development phase
  • ability to be updated remotely with new functions
  • smaller functionality gap between mobile websites and applications

When native apps are better

Despite all the benefits HTML5 can deliver, there are times when it simply isn't a better option than native development. Gartner Inc. Research Director Gordon Van Huizen explained why: "if you need access to hardware acceleration for graphics, for example, or you need a very strong integration with mobile flex capability."

Native application development's strengths include the following:

  • Generally does not need Internet connectivity to operate
  • Provides consistent experience across platforms
  • More flexible than HTML5
  • Has digital rights management (DRM) for many multimedia services
  • Good for implementations where speed is important

When neither HTML5 nor native makes sense

There are also scenarios where native or HTML5 isn't the best option. In such cases, a hybrid application development approach may be the best solution. OpenMobster CEO Sohil Shah believes hybrid applications present the best option for developers who are good with HTML5 and JavaScript. "The hybrid app is basically a native app, which is written using HTML5 technology and integrates with a native runtime, so it's the best of both worlds," he said.

Elliot also noted that hybrid applications certainly have benefits and hold an important place in the mobile application development world. "Taking a hybrid approach, significant parts of an application written in Web technology but with aspects of native code in an HTML5 wrapper, developers can then add layers of reusable HTML5 to run on top of native code in order to take advantage of each platform's best features," he said.

While developers who aren't privy to hybrid mobile applications will want to get up to speed fast, it's not going to take over the landscape. Research from Gartner indicates that while hybrid applications will comprise the majority of enterprise mobile applications within the next couple of years, HTML5 will be the most common language used.

Whether to use native, HTML5 or a hybrid mobile application is a case-by-case business decision. There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution because needs, goals and resources vary among organizations and projects. Elliott said those undertaking a mobility project need to focus on their own specific goals to determine what's best.

"There can be serious costs associated with the lack of adoption of enterprise applications or with their need to be redesigned if the experience is not as it is expected by users to be," Elliott said.

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