Native mobile app dev vs. HTML5: Why not both?

Mobile app developers see strengths in both paradigms as well as in a hybrid approach

The ongoing debate over how to best get applications onto mobile devices -- either through native deployments or writing a mobile Web application -- is going to remain a front-burner question for developers to ponder, given the pros and cons of both, developers say.

Developers see benefits to both approaches, as well as to hybrid applications that mix the two. Some application builders are using dev tools like Appcelerator Titanium, which compiles Web-based mechanisms like JavaScript to native code. Web-based, or HTML5, development provides a quick way to get some applications to multiple devices, developers say. But native development, such as with Objective-C for Apple iOS and Java for Google's Android devices, offers access to the full breadth of a particular device's capabilities, which is often worth the cost of having to develop the code (though not the underlying logic) independently for separate platforms.

The native experience is second to none

"The Web and HTML5 have come a long way, but they have not gotten to the native experience -- the UI, the multitouch, what users expect from an application -- yet," says Jesse Newcomer, mobile development manager at Homes.com.

Freelance developer Ketan Majmudar finds problems with the offline nature of mobile Web applications compared to native applications -- applications either have to talk to an online Web service to pull down data or need a data store bundled with them. "HTML5 as a technology is not mature enough yet. It's nearly there, but there's a lot of hoops you have to jump though," such as with data downloading, he says. Native applications, meanwhile, can have data stored in a bundle when an app is downloaded. "The majority of your data is in place."

"Native development will never go away. Objective-C developers will always be required," Majmudar says. Adds developer Paul Nelson, a systems engineer and Web developer at logistics services company Morgan Supply on Demand: "I notice speed and the ability to control memory more when you do native." He says Facebook made a "huge mistake" in creating an HTML5 application for iOS (an effort that did not succeed). "They have the money and the resources to make a native app."

Plus, native development sometimes is just necessary to access certain features, such as the Siri voice-command capability in iOS, says Jonnie Spratley, director of product design at mobile experience provider AppMatrix. "There will always be a need just because of certain features," Spratley says.

HTML5 and hybrid approaches take hold

Although developers concur on the strengths of native development, they can't overlook the easy option of Web development or hybrid development. "It's a spectrum -- not a binary -- choice," says Kyle Simpson, a JavaScript architect at Getify Solutions. "The spectrum of how much native you embrace versus how much Web you embrace is very different, depending on the company."

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