Users Prefer Native Apps as HTML5 Reality Falls Short of Promise

There have been a couple of interesting contributions in the last week to the ongoing HTML5 vs native mobile app debate. Firstly, Compuware APM published some research that indicates that 85% of smartphone users prefer to use native apps rather than mobile web apps. Secondly, the team behind the popular accounting software Xero announced that they are switching focus to native apps following difficulties in delivering an acceptable mobile web offering.

The Xero team were keen to exploit their existing web development talents when building a mobile version and acknowledge that this, not user experience, was their primary justification for choosing the HTML5 route. But when their efforts failed to yield acceptable results they changed tack:

Xero prides itself on not compromising on customer experience, and when it comes down to it, the question isn’t “How can we use our existing skills to build a mobile application?” but “What is going to enable us to deliver the best customer experience on the mobile devices that our customers use?”

This is a similar conclusion to that reached by Facebook last year when it replaced HTML5 with native on iOS.

As we’ve mentioned previously, one of the key promises of HTML5 is that you can build one app that works everywhere. If you’re targeting multiple mobile platforms this is supposed to make it easier as you don’t have to duplicate effort by creating native apps for each operating system. What’s interesting about the Xero announcement is that they’ve acknowledged that the reality is somewhat different. They’ve concluded that with the current state of the tools and mobile web browsers they would have to put in more effort than it would take to build native apps:

…the lesson we’ve learnt over the last 12 months has been that the cost in time, effort and testing to bring an HTML5 application to a native level of performance seems to be far greater than if the application was built with native technologies from the get-go.

Current trends show that the mobile market is consolidating on just two major platforms, with Google and Apple squeezing out BlackBerry, Microsoft and others. That makes focusing on just the big two a viable mobile strategy. And if there are only two platforms that really count then, as things stand at present, native apps are the way to go.

The picture will of course change as the HTML5 ecosystem matures but for the likes of BlackBerry and Microsoft that can’t happen soon enough. Right now developers may well choose an excellent experience for ~90% of users over a mediocre one for everybody.