Our Oomph CEO Keith Ahern adds to the HTML vs native app great debate.
Marks Zuckerberg’s comments on HTML5 and mobile is making the rounds and reigniting the HTML5 versus native app debate.
Today, Mark Zuckerberg revealed that Facebook’s mobile strategy relied too much on HTML5, rather than native applications.
Not only was this a big mistake with mobile, but Zuckerberg says that its biggest mistake period was the focus on HTML5. This is the first time that the Facebook CEO has openly admitted this, but things are looking good for the new iOS native app. According to Zuckerberg, people are consuming twice as many feed stories since the update to the new iOS app, which is great.
At Oomph we have opinions about this too, in fact we’ve built our business around them. There are a number of factors that need to be considered in either approach, we talk to our clients about this all the time. So in this article, we discuss the pros and cons of both approaches and provide our recommendations for building successful apps on tablet devices.
The Oomph digital publishing platform is used to build content-centric Apps that are used in publishing, media and within the enterprise (Honda & Qantas are customers). Oomph uses a technology that builds native apps rather than relying on HTML5 technology. Oomph can also use HTML5 for content, we think this is win-win.
Do you want to target mobile, tablet and desktop users?
At Oomph we believe mobile, tablet and desktop are fundamentally different enough that to assume they are the ‘same’ will damage the end user experience. For example the desktop experience is heavily button and menu oriented, often with a dependence on right clicking a mouse or hovering over things whereas touch is more content oriented, its more forgiving and friendly - the user often is invited to ‘tap and see what happens’ - with clear instructions on how to undo an action. e.g. think about how you tap to launch a slideshow and tap again to make it disappear.
Oomph is optimised for touch devices.
A ‘one solution fits all’ approach may result in a suboptimal user experience - what if your competitors optimise for touch vs. non-touch? tablet vs. mobile?
Do you really want to ‘dumb down’ the experience on the dominant tablet platform?
Even within the tablet category there are thousands of options available. Apple have one physical size and a few minor variations on features (e.g. camera, gyroscope are only available on the iPad 2 and New iPad, the new Retina Display is available on the New iPad). Android is composed of thousands of OS versions, hardware and software features and extra layers added by carriers and manufacturers. No significant Android manufacturer has released sales figures so market share is impossible to measure accurately. However it’s possible with analytics to measure active tablet users, most research shows that iPad enjoys between 68% and 95% marketshare in most markets. In addition, at Apple’s September 12 keynote speech CEO Tim Cook notes that the iPad is 91% of all active tablets.
This leads to the question, in order to be more cross platform do you really want to ‘dumb down’ the experience on the dominant tablet platform? For many companies out there the answer might be yes - books for example - words on a page are about the most cross platform media there is - hence the availability of the Kindle App on just about every screen there is.
If however you want to engage your end users with interactive content, work effortlessly offline, have frictionless payments, leverage push (e.g. push notifications) as well as pull (visit a webpage or launch an app), integrate deeply with native functions like calendars, address book and cameras, then your user experience needs to be as ‘close’ to the device the user is on as possible - there is nothing closer than a native app - that’s what the word native means and that’s what Mark Zuckerberg realised.
HTML5 is an intermediate layer sitting between the end user and the device. By definition it will always be behind the curve of features and performance compared to native apps. If a single device uses features not on other devices then a cross platform provider may choose to simply ignore this feature in order to maintain cross platform capabilities. In other words, the dumbest device is now the lowest common denominator. There are techniques to counter this (including responsive design), but they require more smarts - which is beginning to defeat the point of choosing a platform in the first place - reducing complexity and cost.
Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that there hasn’t been any innovation since web standards have solidified - stabilisation has resulted in most of the innovation happening on TOP of the web standards - e.g. monetization through advertising, social, the rise of blogging. What apps have done is restart innovation in other parts of the digital ecosystem:
- Device sensors (GPS, gyroscope, compass, front/back camera) - your mobile or tablet has far more sensors than your laptop, which means its smarter. Native apps can access these sensors as soon as the vendor releases a new API. Cross platform HTML can’t access these it until it’s a standard across all devices which could take years - do you want to wait years if your competitors don’t?
- Low friction ecommerce - some device manufacturers, such as Apple, already have your customers credit card details. Most app stores, such as the Apple App Store, are more trustworthy than websites (due to the app approval process) so its possible to offer easier payment options.
At Oomph, we push the iPad to its limits, we really push it. Our unique layered architecture allows designers to layer and animate videos, images and HTML5 on top of each other - and then put interactive widgets on each of those layers. Oomph content, when done right, should be “smooth as butter”, something that’s not always possible with HTML5. HTML5 is getting faster and smoother, but not quite as a quickly as native apps gain new features.
For most companies the best return on investment will be providing a great app experience on the dominant platform, today thats the iPad.
What are your motivations for cross platform? policy (e.g. some government institutions), reach?, revenue?
Some of our customers have a policy in place that mean they can not show favouritism towards a single device e.g. their motivations are non-commercial. In this case Oomph works with partners to provide a ‘dumbed down’ more simplistic experience in other devices and online. Contact us if you want to know more.
If your motivation is reach then cross platform can help, if your motivation is profit, then you need to understand the cost implications of supporting more platforms. For example many app developers, especially game developers, have stated that it’s virtually impossible to support all Android devices. So if you want to reach Android users, it is likely you will have to increase your resources to support them including additional support personnel and increased technology costs. Obviously if the additional revenue from this audience is less than the cost of supporting it then you may actually lose money by going to more platforms.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in New York and Silicon Valley recently, the most common app launch strategy is to:
- Launch on iOS
- Review, optimise and update your UX, marketing and commercial model.
- When you have nailed this, decide on the next platform to launch
Many US companies lead with iOS apps and perfect that experience before considering other platforms.
So what is Oomph doing about cross platform and HTML5?
Oomph has been built using a systems architecture that carefully separates the Oomph content format (know as content bundles) and the Oomph Viewer (the ‘viewer’ for the content which can be an app or HTML5 web app).
Oomph content bundles use open formats such as MPEG4, HTML5, PNG, JPG, PDF, CSS and JSON. This mean’s Oomph content is not a black box, it’s future proof as long as the aforementioned standards are in use - which is likely to be 10 years or more. So Oomph content created today is going to have a long shelf life across many devices. It’s worth noting, that unlike some of our competitors, Oomph content from 2010 was retina ready when the new iPad launched in 2012. We think very carefully about this stuff!
However, we are not complacent in our thinking, we do think other tablets will rise over the next 12 months - perhaps it will be the new Kindle Fires or even a new Google or Microsoft device.
Some of Oomph’s tablets (L-R) Samsung Galaxy 7”, Barnes and Noble Nook, Kindle Fire
We continuously work on our HTML5, Windows 8 and Android version of Oomph. You can see some working examples here:
- Oomph HTML5 (requires Chrome, Safari or IE8+)
- Oomph Windows 8 (video)
- Oomph Android: “The Australian” national newspaper, available on Samsung Galaxy 7” in Australia
- See the iPad versions by downloading our portfolio from Oomph Viewer.
Oomph is definitely excited about the future of tablets, you are in safe hands with us.