Even before Facebook declared, "The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native.", there had been much debate about the viability of developing mobile applications on HTML5. When an e-mail came to a colleague with the message: Don't Miss Out: Try our new NYTimes Web App for iPad free; my thoughts were, hey, here's a web app being boldly promoted by a content leader formerly known for a native app.
VDC has never seen HTML5 as a panacea for developing applications that can deploy on any device. For the enterprise, the challenge is understanding the needs of the user to determine if a native or web application (see our full report, Mobile Development Platforms http://bit.ly/i3C8x1) is the most suitable path to get the job done. What essential requirements should be evaluated to determine the path for mobile application development?
Nearly as important as cost considerations, are the technical and functional requirements of the application, which we consider the most significant drivers for selecting a native, web app, or a hybrid development approach. The enterprise needs to align the end-user requirements with the business need to drive the decision-making process.
Whether your mobile strategy is looking to increase revenues, expand markets, compete directly, play catch-up in the market; or some other goal; be sure to balance the needs of the user with the priority of the mobile opportunity for the end-user. One of the most frequent comments about HTML is that it's not robust enough to create "stickiness" with customers. (Limited capabilities in supporting advanced device features available by a native OS such as integrating data from the app into the phone, push notifications, update calendars, etc.) For a content provider, like the NYTimes, is it essential to provide these features, or is it enough to start with a mostly digital version of their paper with some other features? Whether it is or not, it meets a user requirement for a web app.
To determine technical and functional requirements, again, the user profile should lead the evaluation, but within mobile parameters. Given the nature of mobile (a small screen, gaps in connectivity), the enterprise does not necessarily need to replicate a desktop application on mobile. If the browser (as a "container") cannot connect with core device-side features, what will be the impact in a mobile environment for the user? Is a camera, or microphone paramount to the user experience?
Other companies such as LinkedIn and Walmart have taken a hybrid approach, which allows access to some hardware device features, and does not limit application development to only one platform. As a content providers, one guiding parameter for mobile strategy is reaching all users.
Is The New York Times using this app to evaluate HTML5? Probably. Does it accelerate customer penetration on mobile devices? Yes. Does it give them the user experience to launch other web apps in the future? Definitely, and the "middleman" (and their revenue share) are taken out of the equation.
What parameters are you seeing for native versus web approach? What features if made available on HTML could displace a native approach?