HTML5 vs. Apps Is Not a Contest. Each Has Advantages

Joe Monastiero (@appmobijoe) pointed out to me at #AdTechNY today that while HTML5 adds a lot of new functionality to browsers previously handled by plugins -- things like video and flash graphics and certain kinds of interactivity -- it doesn't account for the functionality mobile devices bring to the table: GPS, the "accelerometer," motion sensors, a contacts database with ability to connect to the contacts natively, certain kinds of touch screen swiping, and so on. True, there might be software workarounds or plugins for some of this (connect your address book through the browser, or open APIs that allows sharing of your email database). But the browser today doesn't generally allow those kinds of functionality that apps do. To add the functionality to the browsers would require that they become operating systems. (And, I'd add, that the machines that carry the operating systems become considerably more sophisticated.)

Then again, on the desktop, as this Technology Review story points out, HTML5 will allow for assembly and mashups of images, including video, with databases to create, as the story notes, a personalized image of someone running through a neighborhood when you put in an address. We can imagine all kinds of database mashups and functionality done on the fly to create new application-like experiences in an HTML5-compliant browser. We can assume the same kinds of functionality will come to mobile devices.

True, there is the nascent Chrome OS, and we could see the day when Safari has the functionality of Objective C. But for now, I'd say, Joe has a point for mobile devices. Not that HTML5 won't take hold, and not that a lot of functions will be handled by browsers on mobile devices, and not that you shouldn't have a good mobile site if a lot of your user base accesses your site via mobile platforms. But don't expect to be able to give them all the functionality through the browser that you can through an app. (And, as an exec at Ad Mob pointed out, you can sometimes access HTML5 browser functions through an app, anyway.)

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