When It Comes to Apps: HTML5 vs. Native

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When It Comes to Apps: HTML5 vs. Native

When it comes to mobile app development there's more than one format to consider working with, and your decision could end up saving you a lot of time and money. Behind door number one is developing an app native to a specific mobile operating system, door number two, developing a universal app built with HTML5. The word universal tends to get people excited, but let's look a little deeper before we pick a team and plant our flag.

When you land on a developer's front step with your app in mind and the devices you'd like it to play nice with, you probably haven't given much thought to how it's going to be built. Why would you? That's what the developers are for, after all! If you have, then you're one step ahead, but it's always a good idea to discuss that decision with just about anyone who will listen. That's because the decision will ultimately influence what your app is capable of, which platform(s) it runs on, and what it costs you to build and maintain it. There's no right or wrong answer, but there are optimized answers. Who doesn't like a future-proof investment and little more bang for their buck?


The standard that most business owners construct their understanding of apps around - developing an app with a specific purpose, that's going to work on x or y mobile platform. Native apps are developed in line with a specific OS' specifications (iOS, Android) and have a greater field of access to a device's toys, in exchange for operating solely on that platform. What this means is that if your app requires access to a device's camera, hardware buttons, or some of the deeper functions that are only available to platform-specific designs, then native is your final destination. Despite advances in other development methods, as of right now there's still nothing contending with the utility that comes from playing by Apple's/Google's rules when you're operating on one of their devices. Apps of all shapes and sizes on the App Store or Google Play Store have seen enormous success by sticking to good old native development.


Developing an app in HTML5 is like building a website - your app is going to open the same way you open and load a webpage, but will be designed to highlight functionality. As an added bonus, better mobile browsers mean better HTML5 apps, and advances in JavaScript technology make HTML5 apps look better and better every day. Despite native apps holding the edge in performance, steady increases in speed and appearance mean that HTML5 apps are rising up as a formidable challenger to that reign. In the meantime, HTML5 web apps are still practical for reasons including cross-platform availability (laptop, tablet, phone) and cost effective development of multiple apps. Obviously, developing for one technology is going to cost less than developing for two or three operating systems. Better still, chances are the developers you decide to work with will already be versed in the technologies driving HTML5 web app development, because they already use them for the web.


In the end, a conversation with developers may illuminate which option is going to be more cost effective and deliver better results. Some requirements lock in one development method or another, but if none of those criteria make themselves known, then it often comes down to measurable results.

A native app will always have the sheen of a product that has been developed to coordinate in perfect unison with a platform, but HTML5 web apps are improving rapidly and may be attractive to futurecasters. It's only a matter of time before HTML5 rivals native apps in polish and effect, and when that time comes, one will offer cross-platform availability inherently and the other will be locked into a specific system. In that case, which would you choose?