For several years now, I’ve been hearing that HTML5, a much needed update to the 1990’s language that powers the internet, will kill the app and revolutionize mobile.

For quite a while, I agreed. HTML5 has the ability to detect a viewer’s screen size, removing the need for a specialized app for each mobile device. It bypasses Apple’s listing restrictions and the cut they take on revenues from their store. It saves users from manual updates to their native software. Last but not least, it’s more easily discoverable: via social media — say, a Facebook link — or through a web search.

But recently, when I complimented my friend Andrew, who works as a developer at LooseCubes, on their slick HTML5 website, I got a surprising response.

“Yeah, but I can’t wait until we put out an app.”

What?

If HTML5 is the future, then why would LooseCubes, after embracing the HTML5 revolution, even bother to build apps? Their website looks great from my iPhone, as I’m sure it does from an Android or Blackberry. So why go through the trouble?

My friend explained to me that while HTML5 is a huge improvement over its predecessor, there are still advantages to native software. Here are three:

  1. Web apps are at the mercy of your internet connection. You can’t use them offline.
  2. App stores are a great promotion platform.
  3. Native software takes full advantage of a phone’s hardware. Web apps do not, and never will.

It’s his last point that’s especially powerful.

A web app can’t send you push notifications, and optimizing it for specialized hardware (for instance, an accelerometer) is difficult. More importantly, graphics and animations are smoother using the phone’s API than running off the internet, even in HTML5. Apple and Google have little incentive to close this gap — since increased adoption of HTML5 would come at the expense of their App Stores — and they probably couldn’t even if they tried.

My bet is the widespread use of native apps will persist in select areas. Despite the proliferation of web-based social games like Farmville, games are meant to be native. The same goes for video apps. They both lean heavily on a phone’s graphical hardware, and at least for games, they don’t usually require internet access.

In contrast, there are many purely informational, heavily internet-reliant apps I use every day that I think are better suited for a browser: Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, OpenTable, and Yahoo Fantasy Baseball, just to name a few. When I switched laptops a couple of months ago, I was shocked and delighted by how little I had to download on my new computer. With ubiquitous broadband internet firmly in place for desktops and laptops, more and more native applications are moving to the browser.

Mobile software will undoubtedly move in the same direction, as 3G, 4G, and eventually 5G becomes available to more people in more places. But the native app will be, I think, surprisingly persistent in the coming struggle for mobile supremacy.

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