HTML5 not yet solving mobile dev issues

Developers are reaching limits of what HTML can do for mobile websites

HTML5 will likely make mobile development easier but not for some time, a group of wireless experts said Monday.

"HTML5 is not a panacea. It won't solve all your problems," said Ted Woodbury, an executive with AT&T. "It won't be a disaster but I think people will always do both" apps and HTML5 sites. Woodbury and others spoke at Mobile Northwest, a conference in Seattle that is organized by the Miller Nash law firm.

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Companies have been debating the value of HTML5, which allows developers to build new kinds of features into websites so that sites behave on mobile phones like applications.

"We've run into the limits of what HTML5 can and can't do and it's painful," Woodbury said. He expects the standard to improve over time, though.

Some people are looking to HTML5 as a tool that will make it easier to write an application once and see it work well across the many different mobile platforms. "We have customers who believe HTML5 is the future so why make an app," said Hans Gerwitz, a director at Frog Design, a company that designs and builds apps. "Others think HTML5 is the new J2ME and will save us." J2ME was positioned as a platform that would let people write an application that could run well on many different phones.

So far, HTML5 isn't serving as a platform that can be used to extend apps across platforms. Starbucks initiated a project to use HTML5 in hopes of making its website work well across the many mobile browsers. "It worked but it taught us it was too hard," said K.C. MacLaren, director of mobile and emerging technologies at Starbucks. Starbucks' website is relatively "high functioning," with a lot of JavaScript, making it hard to replicate, he said. It took too much work to transition the site to HTML5 and make it run well on the many browsers that run on mobile phones, he said.

Whether a company should use HTML5 instead of building an application depends on what functions the company is trying to create, Gerwitz said. Content-oriented apps like those that publish news or weather are best developed using HTML5 instead of a stand-alone app, he said.

Most of the experts think that HTML5 will advance enough to become widely used and when that does happen, it might create some significant changes in the market. Woodbury predicts that in 18 months the shift to HTML5 will boost Web application stores, which will then "take a serious bite out of the OS-driven app stores," he said.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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