HTML5: Hype or Hope?

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Picking the right platform for mobile apps can be a challenge and many travel companies have been focusing on how to plan and optimise their spend for cross-platform mobile application development. In this context, HTML5 technology has been under the spotlight offering a single application development language option.

The HTML5 performance on mobile devices has, however, been met with mixed reviews. It seems to work well for some applications, but not everybody is convinced that it is the holy-grail. HotelTonight’s chief technology officer Christopher Bailey shares his thoughts on this technology with EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta

EFT: Not long ago the travel industry was talking about ‘first-mover advantage’ with proactive adoption of the HTML5 technology. How do you assess the current status of this technology?

CB: HTML5 has made great strides, and is a viable solution for some applications. That said, we feel strongly that native applications provide a superior user experience for consumer applications. Native apps are typically faster,behave better in terms of what users expect, and provide a more polished application.

Where HTML5 can shine is if you need extensive platform coverage and require your users to have the latest version of the app – perhaps for administrative or internal applications. We use HTML5 for our mobile extranet application which allows hotels to instantly update pricing and inventory from nearly any mobile device with a web browser.

EFT: What do you make of the utility of this technology in any mobile strategy today?

CB: A lot depends on the particular application. If users need a constantly up-to-date app it can be a good solution, since there is no waiting for app store releases and one does not have to deal with users who haven’t updated their application even when an update is available. It is also a good solution for apps that have a very small scope – one or two primary views. 

HTML5 is also particularly useful for mobile optimising your web site. At HotelTonight, we prefer a dedicated app for the absolute best user experience when booking with us. But, we also believe in providing a great experience on mobile for web pages that are not part of our application or that could be viewed within our application.

EFT: Can HTML5 deliver app-like experiences on mobile devices in the future?

CB: HTML5 can deliver an app-like experience on mobile today, for a limited set of applications and where the developers have worked very hard to achieve that.

Whether it can achieve the same experience as the best native apps still remains to be seen. As developers, we hope so, as it potentially leads to use of a single technology on many platforms and other similar benefits. However, native app technology continues to improve as well, and the integration points with the operating system and platform are getting tighter and more powerful.

While an upside to writing apps in HTML5 is the use of a single technology, it makes it harder for that single technology to provide the best experience on each platform. Typically, it leads to lowest common denominator features, or some features that are only available on a single platform may not be accessible at all.

EFT: It is suggested that HTML5 will have a minor impact on the apps ecosystem. What is your view?

CB: I think it is still unclear. HTML5 has a lot of promise, but we just haven't seen it make a dent in apps, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

EFT: To what extent has this technology succeeded in providing richer web applications and improved usability?

CB: HTML5 is driving the state of web technology forward, and in particular has incorporated features such as location and off-line storage. Adoption of HTML5 seems to be accelerating, but widely appealing consumer web applications are still needed to support some older browsers. That said, the impact isn't yet at its full potential.

EFT: Do you think that HTML5 will be confined to niche status?

CB: I don't believe HTML5 (or web-based mobile apps) will be relegated to niche status, as it is a good fit in some situations. But, being standards based, covering many platforms, and dealing with browser updates will make it unrealistic to move at the speed of native SDKs (software development kits) and platform-specific solutions.

EFT: To what extent can this technology reduce the cost of cross-platform development?

CB: There is a lot of appeal in using a single technology to implement applications on multiple platforms, but this typically means apps that are not as rich as they are restricted to common features. It’s sometimes possible to use specific platform features, but that begins to degrade the common code advantage.

The advantages will be realised more for apps that require being constantly up to date – apps that are harder to develop natively to begin with.

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