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How does HTML5 fit into your mobile strategy?

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The thorny issue of the role HTML5 can play in mobile remains unclear. Analysis paralysis is bogging down companies rather than getting on with things and mobilising their business.

Wilter du Toit, CEO Virtual Mobile Technologies (image: Virtual Mobile Technologies)

The question of HTML5 vs. native apps is the big question. Polarised opinions surround this new technology as the solution to fragmented mobile space, while conversely not matching the offerings of native mobile applications.

Unfortunately mobile fragmentation is worse than the desktop landscape. HTML5’s appeal is offering a cross-platform solution, but lacks in areas where native apps thrive.

Companies should not bite the bullet and develop apps for each mobile platform as scrambles to keep all apps and teams in sync.

Let us first look at how HTML5 fits into your mobile strategy. Does it add value? Or, did you tick the buzzword to keep your non-technical senior executives happy?

Yes to HTML5

Like its predecessors, the markup language is good at enabling the discovery and sharing of content.

An HTML5 app also is a good sampler for your full-blown app. Customers do not need to download anything to get an sampler of the native app. So make a decision in a risk-free environment. Who knows, maybe a “lite” version of your app might be all your customer requires.

If you are not dependent on user interaction, customers might only access to specific information or carry out simple tasks. Downloading an fully-fledged app for these would border on overkill.

No to HTML5 and yes to native apps

Do not shoehorn HTML5 into highly interactive environments. Over time the time, money and effort to run the show will outweigh the user experience of a native app. Poor user-experience due to inappropriate technology is unforgivable. Let each technology play to its strengths.

Do not expect the mobile web to evolve along desktop’s trajectory. Drawing parallels with older technology, early on TV was modelled on radio with talking heads. Once TV’s capabilities became apparent, this “voice with pictures” was extended. Likewise, mobile web experience will go on its own path due to unique features such as mobility, location services, augmented reality capabilities and so on. Here HTML5 starts looking very limited as it primarily focuses on extending the desktop web.

Not to HTML5, and no to native apps

The bad news is HTML5 currently only works on some high-end smartphones. South Africa’s most popular smartphone, the BlackBerry Curve 8520, generally does not support HTML 5. Behaviour differs on the phones HTML5 works on.

Factoring in smartphones comprise 15% of the South African mobile market, it becomes clear you need more than HTML5 to mobilise your business.

Oh no! So things have just got worse. Now factor in USSD, Java apps and other legacy technology into mobilising your business. HTML5 is the least of your worries, it seems.

A true mobile strategy means rolling out appropriate services to users without excluding some users with a too sophisticated app, nor force high-end users to engage with a rudimentary service. The means of doing this is via a mobile enterprise application platform (MEAP) that includes legacy technology support, native applications, HTML5 and will support new platforms such as Windows Phone 7.

Wilter du Toit, CEO Virtual Mobile Technologies


  1. Hi Wilter,

    Been grappling with playing catchup with the rest of the world, developing mobi strategies as an agency in SA. We have had to develop some pretty interesting detection, fallbacks and creative coding to provide both high-end and seriously low-end versions for the SA market. The main challenge is the roughly 68% Blackberry marketshare, held by a predominantly lower LSM unwittingly armed to the teeth with Blackberry’s shipped with javascript support disabled by defualt.

    Question to you is : do we detect and instruct the user to enable JS to experience Jquery support – or continue to serve dumbed-down versions of mobi sites until everyone upgrades to HTML5 supported models? P.s found a great developer solution to use php for responsive image resizing on non js supported phones 🙂

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