|Hitting the wall: What can enterprises learn from the failure of HTML5 at Facebook?
For any company trying to develop software that will work across multiple mobile platforms, Mark Zuckerberg's recent remarks about HTML5 were telling. The Facebook founder and CEO told Techcrunch: “The biggest mistake that we have made as a company was betting too much on HTML5, as opposed to native, because it just wasn’t there…. we were just never able to get the quality that we wanted…we burnt two years, it was really painful.”
For Facebook, the decision to code in HTML5 was a strategic one - ideally, it doesn't want to be producing dedicated apps for Android, thereby strengthening Google, its major competitor in the social networking market. For that reason, Facebook will have tried really hard to make HTML5 apps work. But Zuckerberg was very clear with Techcrunch that those days are over: “Two years ago we bet completely on HTML5…[but] native is the approach we are going to go with for iOS and Android going forward.”
Does Facebook’s U-turn suggest HTML5 has been over-hyped and is actually far from being able to deliver decent mobile apps? Not necessarily. Facebook's mobile apps need to delight both consumers and advertisers - a difficult task given the relatively small screen space on a mobile handset. In Facebook's apps, the advertising (or sponsored stories, as Facebook prefers to call them) need to feel like a natural part of the content, rather than an unwelcome intrusion or an adjunct to the real conversations. To pull off this difficult trick, Facebook may need to harness the full capabilities of the operating system and the device itself. With attention spans so short, particularly in a mobile environment, the giant social network can’t afford to have any latency within its apps.
A little latency may not be a big deal
Many companies developing cross-platform apps aimed at their own employees (or even their customers) aren't facing quite the same challenges. While every developer wants to deliver a good user experience, a mobile app without advertising can use much more of the touch-screen as an user interface for the content and the functionality. Moreover, a little latency isn't quite such a big deal. For enterprise apps designed to do a specific job, such as enable employees to query corporate databases, access customer records, make expenses claims or book meeting rooms, HTML5 may still be the right answer.
Anyone who has used the Financial Times' HTML5 app will know that this collection of web standards can now deliver a respectable consumer experience. While the navigation isn't as slick as you might get from a native app, it is good enough. Enterprises that have adopted a bring your own device philosophy and are having to support multiple platforms should take heed. Unless you are a perfectionist, it is worth keeping the HTML5 faith, despite Zuckerberg's misgivings. Even the man himself said to Techcrunch: “It is not that HTML5 is bad…long term, I am really excited about it.”