Sencha CEO: Treat HTML5 apps as a programming platform, not a Web page

Tools vendor executive Michael Mullany also sees excitement about Firefox OS but says more work is needed on Tizen

Sencha provides tools for buildings Web applications to run on a variety of devices, including tablets, mobile phones, and laptops with touchscreens. Focused on HTML5, Sencha's products include its Sencha Touch mobile application development framework. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill recently met with Sencha CEO Michael Mullany to discuss the mobile application landscape, sizing up native versus Web development, and emerging platforms, including Tizen and Firefox OS.

InfoWorld: Has the HTML5 application caught up to native, or is that never going to happen?

Mullany: We did a pretty cool promotion and proof-of-concept last year, after [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg said HTML5 was a big mistake for the company. We took exception because we knew it could be just as fast as native. We looked through its app -- we've seen this in other companies -- and when you build an HTML5 app, you can't build it like you build a Web page. If you treat it like a Web page, you're going to have slow performance. You have to treat it like a programming platform.

That's where our framework comes in, which is you treat the browser as a rendering platform but create all your user interface and all your app logic in JavaScript. That allows you to dynamically add and subtract screen elements on the fly and get much, much better performance. So we did something called, which rebuilt the Facebook feed in HTML5 at better than native performance for Android and at native performance for iOS.

InfoWorld: What's next for mobile application development?

Mullany: What everyone is trying to do is get to a single code base that can be easily adapted for different device types. Today that basically means for enterprise users. It's really the iPad as the tablet device; on phones, it's BlackBerry phones, a little bit of Windows Phone, and iOS and Android. That's the trend for everything we've been focused on for the last couple of years, which is allowing developers to create one application that can adjust to the different devices they find themselves on.

InfoWorld: Any thoughts on new platforms, such as Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, or BlackBerry 10?

Mullany: The [BlackBerry] Z10 is a very nice phone. It's a great HTML5 platform. It actually has the most HTML5 features of anything in the market. The browser team at BlackBerry was an acquisition from a company called Torch Mobile, and they had been working on WebKit for several years before they were acquired. The Staikos brothers were the guys there, and they've done a really nice job on the browser. For people looking to deploy HTML5 apps, the Z10 is a pretty good platform.

On the Windows side, Microsoft was a terrible laggard in browsers until Windows 8. Internet Explorer 10 is still not quite as good as other platforms, but some things are actually faster, and it is now a competitive HTML5 browser. If you look at the Surface Pro, you'll see the fastest vector graphics implementation of anyone. Canvas is a little bit slower, and the raw JavaScript performance and DOM interaction is a little slower than the iPad.

InfoWorld: What do you think is going to happen with Firefox OS and Tizen?

Mullany: Our early look at Tizen is that it probably has about nine months to go before it's really production-ready. The early versions we saw at Mobile World Congress [in February] were slow and buggy. These are obviously pre-released development devices, so that makes sense. But they have a bunch of work to do before it releases.

The Firefox OS stuff was pretty snappy, and people were very excited about Firefox OS at the show. People were literally falling off the edge of the booth because there wasn't enough space for everyone who wanted to get in and see Firefox OS.

InfoWorld: What do you see from competitors like Appcelerator and RhoMobile?

Mullany: The biggest competitor is just native development. HTML5 today is the No. 3 development platform for mobile behind iOS and Android.

InfoWorld: Do you see that changing?

Mullany: Yes. I see it changing because Android is fragmenting and the device diversity is increasing. We're also seeing a pullback from some customers who have gone the iOS route, who want their code to be long-lived and don't know how long they're going to be on iPads. They want the flexibility of switching over to other platforms in the future, and the notion that they have this massive stranded code base written in Apple native code is not attractive.

InfoWorld: Working with an HTML5 app, they could just move it over?

Mullany: With an HTML5 app, they can just move it over to whatever hardware is the best price-performance and features that year.

InfoWorld: Would you have to tweak the code a little bit?

Mullany: Not if you're using a framework. That's one of the benefits of using a framework, which is we abstract that from you.

This story, "Sencha CEO: Treat HTML5 apps as a programming platform, not a Web page," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.