The Great Debate: Native vs. HTML5

When developing a mobile application, where should your organization invest?

Five short years ago, U.S. smartphone penetration was in the single digits. Now there are more smartphone owners than feature phone owners, 92 percent of which download apps. As app downloads increase, so does mobile Internet browsing. According to Nielsen, in 2012, the number of U.S. mobile subscribers browsing the Internet on their phone grew from 98 million to 129 million.

As a business leader, it can be tricky to decide how best to reach smartphone users, which represents 56 percent of the mobile marketplace. When planning mobile application development, should you invest in a native or an HTML5 app developed for the mobile Web?

There are pros and cons to each strategy.

HTML5 saves time and money for multi-platform apps. This is because when working in native, developers have to rewrite an app’s user interface for each platform since each is typically written in a different language.

In contrast, HTML5 works across platforms, which means that developers only have to write the user interface once and it will appear similarly on multiple platforms.

One of the advantages of developing a native app is that users will typically recognize most of the native elements and immediately know how to interact with them. For example, Android devices include a native back button, so when you’re building an Android app, you don’t need to add a back button into your design and can instead devote that precious screen space to more meaningful content.

Since developers have more direct control over a native interface, it’s also easier to get the look right. HTML5 runs through a Web browser, and each platform’s browser renders content a bit differently, which can be slightly confusing for users at first glance. Native applications also typically load faster than HTML5 apps.

If you decide to develop in HTML5, keep customized features simple and design decisions streamlined. This will help users intuitively and easily navigate your app.

Alternatively, you could also consider a hybrid approach—an app that has both HTML5 and native components. A couple years ago, Metova developed its first hybrid app for Android for a popular online dating website. As you can imagine, this app was extremely popular and received millions of downloads.

While currently native development is king, because of HTML5’s potential cost savings, many within the mobile industry believe that in the long-term apps are heading away from native development and towards HTML5.

By Dave Lane, Vice President of Technology, Metova

This article originally appeared in 151 Advisors’ 151 Perspectives.

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Dave Lane
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