What are HTML5 Mobile Web Apps and Why Should You have One?

Mobile technology represents such a significant element of our daily lives that most of us would have a hard time imagining living without the little devices that keep us connected to the web 24 hours a day. For example, if you try to count the time you spend on your smartphones or the number of times you check them each day, certainly you will be shocked by the results.

According to data from the app company Locket, people unlock and check their phones approximately 110 times per day. The data is based on a sample of 150,000 users and it shows that they are most active in using their smartphones in the hours between 5 and 8 pm.

This basically means that, nowadays, anyone who wants to have a successful business should consider going mobile. But what is the best approach? Should you rely on the more traditional “native” mobile apps, or should you try the HTML5 mark-up language to build your app? Although HTML5 offers plenty of advantages over native apps, many developers still prefer the latter for many reasons: they are used to them, they like using the app store, they prefer to monetize through the app store, they prefer the native interface etc.

However, the question regarding the best choice remains. Finding a solution to this dilemma lies in initially answering this essential question: What do you want to do with your app? In 2013 Adobe released the results on a survey called: “Users Preference for using a mobile browser vs. native app for accessing select types of mobile contents“. The study clearly indicated that the only activities users opt for native apps are music, social media and games. For accessing any other type of online content users prefer using the browser and web apps.

This leads to the conclusion that if your business consists of news media, small publishing, weather forecast, online shopping, or in any type of retail, and you want to go mobile, your best option is an HTML5 mobile web app.

Advantages of HTML5 Mobile Web Apps

Advantages of HTML5 Mobile Web Apps

There are several core advantages that HTML5 apps offer:

  1. HTML5 apps don’t have to be separately designed for each mobile operating system and, as a result, they work the same way across all of them, either if it’s an iOS, an Android or a Windows Phone 8.
  2. Because they work across platforms — including the desktop, development costs are much lower.
  3. An app store is not necessarily designed for HTML5 apps: developers don’t need the approval from the Apple or the Google stores and they also don’t have to share their revenue with them. Therefore, a small business can significantly benefit from the low development and distribution costs.
  4. There are plenty of proficient HTML5 developers out there or just Do-It-Yourself type of platforms such as Onswipe, Pressly or Appticles that can help you immediately package your existing content into cross-platform mobile web applications.
  5. Timely updates of their structure or content are easily done in HTML5 apps. If you need to constantly update the contents of your app (e.g. news media), HTML5 is certainly a must, because it provides you with a lot more freedom to do timely updates.
  6. Publishers can benefit from the thousands of editing design tools in HTML. Communicating their brand identity to their audience is easy.
  7. HTML5 includes features that deliver a richer experience to users and it supports the following new generation web technologies: Canvas, Geolocation, Native audio/video, Local Storage & many others.
  8. Because advertising is the main source of revenue for small publishers, going mobile through HTML5, its advantages should be considered as well. Ads integrated in HTML5, as any other content, run seamlessly across devices. They’re capable of delivering rich, exceptional advertising experience and, recently, advertisers have strongly relied on HTML5 in continuing to develop their industry.
  9. Since one of the key features users value in native apps is their interactive interface, several HTML5 Mobile UI Frameworks are now available to help developers create attractive and responsive HTML5 powered apps: Kendo UI & Sencha Touch just to name a few.

Users’ Behavior Constrain You to be Mobile

1. Prevalence of mobile over the desktop

A ComScore study, in collaboration with Morgan Stanley, showed that, by 2014, there would be more users accessing the Internet on their mobile devices than on their desktops. During 2013 alone, the number of smartphone and tablet users has increased with approximately 20% of the entire Internet traffic. Mobile devices allow their owners to be connected to anything that is relevant for them anytime and people do, indeed, keep their mobile phones close by. There is even one anxiety dedicated specifically to the fear of being out of mobile phone contact: nomophobia.

Therefore, it is a lot easier to reach potential public through an easy to navigate website customized to serve mobile devices. The number of people using the Internet from their phones or tablets has already exceeded 1.2 billion users, and reaching them through a mobile website or an app, is not just advised, but mandatory.

2. Visitor growth for businesses that have gone mobile

The manner in which people do searching has dramatically changed over the last years. Smartphone and tablet users are more likely to search for products, news outlets or services at any moment, since they are not dependent on their desktops. A business with a strong mobile presence will be easier to reach to explore if it is customized for their devices. Otherwise, they might not get the information they need or will get frustrated with the lack of accessibility and look for something else.

Retail businesses should also turn towards providing their users with a mobile application, be it native or web based, in 2014, as it is an unavoidable measure if they still want to remain relevant. During days such as Black Friday, retailers with mobile websites or apps have experienced an increase in unique visits of approximately 76%, and in page views of 88%. However, according to an Adobe survey conducted at the beginning in 2013, there was still a staggering 45% of businesses without a customized mobile website or an application. The same study showed that companies that do decide to have a mobile identity were three times more likely to reach mobile conversion rates of over 5% than the desktop online websites. This is a clear proof of the greater reach businesses have when catering to various types of devices: handsets or desktops.

3. New habits requires an effective mobile presence

Furthermore, as the number of mobile Internet users grows each year, we notice that a regular website made for desktops and simply translated to the smartphone or tablet screens is difficult to use and makes people lose patience. Businesses and publishers need to adapt to the increasing demands of an audience who is more mobile and active than ever before. Some of the most effective features users and readers will definitely enjoy are: increasing the ease of navigation, choosing between responsive design or an app (HTML5 based or native), have an easy to read font, decrease the number and size of images or Flash enabled graphs or animations.

Big Players Chose Mobile Web Apps

Mobile Web Apps

A big publisher that has been enjoying the benefits of an HTML5 mobile web app for some time is Financial Times. The Financial Times web app feels and looks very much like a native app. This is mainly due to the fact that the publisher has taken advantage of some of the great features and aspects of HTML5 and CSS3. To enable off-line reading, FT uses local storage: the web app asks the user to allow for local storage of articles. Moreover, the app uses touch screen interactivity such as swiping and pinching. Last, but not least, an important feature of the FT app is that it loads as a full screen application in the mobile browser.

Other big players in the publishing industry that rely on HTML5 apps are Amazon with their Kindle Cloud Reader, Playboy and the New York Times. Their publications gain revenue from advertisers, as well as subscribers. There are also some other reputable apps such as tradeMonster that are built on HTML5. TradeMonster was ranked by Barron’s the best mobile stock-trading app for 2012.

Therefore, in spite of the popularity of native apps, more and more businesses have become aware of the opportunities that HTML5 mobile web apps offer them: an easy and inexpensive access to wide audience, the possibility for constantly updating their apps’ content and the convenience of running seamlessly across all mobile platforms.

Amazon is an illustrative example for a big retailer that has seen the opportunities in both web and native apps, so it now has both. Buyers can easily place orders, buy and read e-books through an HTML5 Kindle Cloud Reader.

Small Publishers are Following the Trends too

Bloggers also need to be open to offer their readers a mobile alternative. Food, travel and beverage award winning blogs such as Good Beer Hunting, Not Without Salt or Behind the Food Carts have turned their mobile strategy towards responsive design and they can now easily reach their readers on any device and help them use the recipes found on their blogs without any further hassle.

On the other hand, DinoDogan.com, a super-blogger who has chosen to reward his super-fans by integrating his existing content into an iOS application, shows that it is possible for content creators to “package” their articles, podcasts, songs, Youtube videos and everything else into one dedicated mobile application.

Taking Dino’s example one step further, imagine if there could be a way to “aggregate” all this content into a mobile application that would run into a browser of any device (mobile or tablet), that could have a native look and feel, would work offline and could be instantly accessible to readers without any installation requirements & without any app stores involved, thus NO approval process. Wouldn’t that be something that would truly qualify as “liberation“?

Let’s say you’re a sports blogger and you’re taking this trip to Brazil to experience firsthand the 2014 World Cup and you want to cover the whole event for your readers back home. Just like that you could package your blog’s feed, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube channels into a mobile web application that’s instantly available to your superfans to access at a certain domain name, maybe even an extension of your blog: brazil.your-blog.com. How amazing is that?

Whatever your preference may be, there is an increasing number of mobile developers targeting web apps. Based on VisionMobile’s latest Developer Economics survey of 6,000+ developers, already 23% of HTML5 mobile developers develop web apps, compared to 38% who develop mobile websites.

As Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, said in 2012: “the solution is in your hands: develop web apps!

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  1. Cristina Elena Ungureanu Describes very well the topic “why What are HTML5 Mobile Web Apps”

  2. More and more people use mobile device to access the web. No wonder businesses want to be found online, I guess, mobile apps in this case would be the best practice.

  3. The move to HTML5 is not completely true, if not how can you explain that apps like facebook started with a HTML5 interface and moved to a native app because the loading time was being increased.
    The fact is HTML5 is helping too much to Web apps but you can get the 100% of the device resources only using a Web App that’s why we can’t choose that option instead of a native app at least for the moment because we are limited by the browsers.
    In my oppinion HTML5 is a good option for a group of clients but it shouldn’t be a replacement to a native app.

  4. @OneMontero You’re partially right about the HTML5 impact: the shift towards HTML5 is happening and according to Developer Economics Report, for the first time HTML5 overtook iOS in App Developer mindshare (a regular second position in Europe and North America, with Android on top) in South Asia, South America and Middle East & Africa.

    Totally agree with you on HTML5 being suitable for a certain class of apps. I wrote a comprehensive article on this subject & how responsiveness is not enough for Web: https://medium.com/thoughts-and-discoveries/53e4de6c1630

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