The idea of ‘write once, run anywhere’ has been the golden panacea that the software industry has been chasing since the mid-1990s with the arrival of Java. Since then, several standards, companies and initiatives have come and failed in realizing this ideal.

With the launch of a Facebook HTML5 application at Apple Event, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for this new standard despite the obvious conflicts of interest for the handset manufacturer and what some of the challenges the industry need to still overcome before it’s deemed enterprise ready.

Why is the industry excited about HTML5?

With growing industry unease around the iOS walled garden, headaches over Android fragmentation and a flurry of new OS contenders, the hype around HTML5 might be justified. So, with companies including Salesforce, Slideshare and Pandora already signed up, what are some of the key advantages of HTML5?

  • Cross-platform & Cross-Device Compatibility. The consumerization of IT has meant there is a plethora of devices and operating systems within each organization, with each requiring a native application to be built from scratch. A HTML5 application can be run on Android, iPhone or Blackberry devices and CSS3 features can be leveraged to automatically adjust the application page layout.
  • Version Control and Time-to-Market. HTML5 apps delivered as mobile web applications enable direct control over the app. Organizations can upload new functionality and bug fixes onto the application server, making these changes immediately available for the mobile user. This also allows enterprise developers to be more reactive and shorten time-to-market of new apps by not being subject to stringent and lengthy app store approval processes.
  • HTML5 Skills Are Available in Abundance. According to The Wall Street Journal, companies are being forced to increase salaries, retrain software engineers, outsource app development and set up offshore development labs to meet the demand thanks to a young mobile app ecosystem. Web skills are much more likely to already exist within an organization and the ability to reuse existing code brings on other advantages.

Adoption of the standard is clearly on the rise for the reasons stated and many more. However, the mass rollout of HTML5 over native Android and iPhone apps still face some considerable hurdles.

The challenge for HTML5 & the growth of hybrid

The consumer influence has driven higher IT expectations from workers. Native apps that can take full advantage of all the phone features will be able to offer the “high end experience” currently not delivered through HTML5 web apps.

Another key challenge that is likely to be adopted soon is that employees have shown they aren’t comfortable working on the web all the time. The ability to save data on the native device is still a comforting feeling for the users and, although HTML5 can support this to some degree, there is still room for improvement.

This doesn’t mean we won’t see the growth of HTML5 in the enterprise market, not in a pure play fashion, but in a hybrid approach.

Ron Perry is chief technology officer at Worklight, recently provided the following description in an article published on Venturebeat:

A hybrid app is a native, downloadable app, that runs all or some of its user interface in an embedded browser component. To the user, a hybrid app is almost indistinguishable from a native one: it is downloaded from the app store or marketplace, it is stored on the device, and it is launched just like any other app.

But to developers there is a huge difference because instead of rewriting the app from scratch for each mobile OS, they write at least some of their application code in HTML, CSS and JavaScript, and reuse it across devices.

What the future holds (in my opinion at least)

Native apps will still be extremely popular for many developers; however, HTML5 represents a major shift in the industry and is quickly closing the performance gap. As a result, organizations are likely to develop a variety of applications, rather than adopt a single approach, producing a mix of native, hybrid and pure-play HTML apps (similar to the rumored Facebook approach).

For example, HTML5 apps targeting the consumer market, both by independent developers and B2C companies, are likely to be a key growth area for the technology. This is predominantly due to the ability to bypass the costs and time required to develop a multi-platform application, but there are some other key reasons.

  • HTML5 apps are searchable by crawlers such as Google’s search engine, ensuring that the apps can be discovered by billions of consumers;
  • They can mash content with data or apps from third parties and access analytical services such as traffic measurement tools and ad server targeting technologies;
  • You don’t need to get anyone’s permission to distribute HTML5 apps.

New opportunities means new challenges

Whether this standard will rise or fall, like many before it, will not be decided by a single organization or developer group, but by the developers that have shaped the mobile industry and the tools available to them.

Over the next 12 months, we’re likely to see a new debate emerge above the traditional one over fragmentation – native, hybrid or HTML5. Who do you think will be leading the market at the launch of iPhone 5?