Lost in the super market
As noted earlier, a native app that has made its way into an app store may receive very little notice at all. As app stores have grown -- and become bloated with shoddy or useless apps -- accessing apps has become more of a hassle. WildTangent vice president Matt Shea says that because the big app stores are a one-stop-shop for all categories of apps, they are unwieldy and often fail to categorize and organize apps sensibly. As a result, app buyers can't locate the perfect app for the task they have in mind even though it may exist in the store -- and that's a big problem for the app's developer.
Shea says that poor cataloging of apps at the big app stores helps explain the rise of specialized app stores like WildTangent, which offers only games and categorizes them carefully so visitors can more easily find the apps they're looking for.
Is HTML5 the answer?
Many people in the mobile community believe that developers could avoid these headaches if they used HTML5 to develop browser-based apps. HTML5 is the first upgrade to hypertext markup language since 1999. Though the official HTML5 standard won't be officially completed by the W3C (Worldwide Web Consortium) until 2014, most modern mobile browsers already support the language, and many Web developers are already designing HTML5 sites.
In a nutshell, HTML5 will let browsers -- desktop and mobile -- do a lot of cool new things, such as location detection, and audio and video playback without plug-ins. Syncing will improve, too, so that you can watch part of a movie at work, and then continue watching it on your commuter train ride home.
Perhaps the biggest potential benefit of HTML5 is that it will enable app developers to focus on making one version of each app, which will then run smoothly in many kinds of browsers, freeing them to move on to bringing more and better apps to market. It might also encourage them to spend more money on marketing and promotion and less on the grunt work of versioning.
The network is a factor, too. With the advent of 4G networks, which can deliver content ten times faster than 3G networks can, users will be able to retrieve content from the network far faster and more reliably than in the past -- and browser-based apps will have a far better chance of matching the performance of native apps.
As for promotional considerations, browser-based mobile apps reduce developers' reliance on the app stores. In order for native apps to have a chance at success, developers must promote them through the app stores; but browser-based apps lend themselves better to Web promotion via social media like Twitter and Google+, proponents say.
Should I stay or should I go?
Though most developers believe that HTML5 is improving, they say that native apps still run better and faster than browser apps in real-life use cases.
One reason for this state of affairs involves the app's access to the phone's features. Many developers say that HTML5 apps can't yet control and take advantage of a smartphone's various hardware features -- such as its processor and its accelerometer -- as well as native apps can.
Nevertheless, considerable debate surrounds the question of how fast HTML5 is approaching parity with native apps when it comes to controlling the hardware assets of smartphones.