Mobile browsers lag, so mobile HTML5 apps suffer

A Mozilla evangelist claims mobile browsers just aren't good enough for HTML5

While HTML5 has made advances in areas like animation and video, support of HTML5 on mobile browsers remains inadequate, argues an official at Mozilla, which has been a major proponent of HTML5.

Browsers on such platforms as Apple iOS and Google Android are not up to par when it comes to HTML5, said Mozilla's Christian Heilmann, principal evangelist for HTML5 and the open Web, during the recent Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco. "This is the big problem. The mobile environments that we have right now like iOS and Android treat HTML5 as the red-headed stepchild in the basement." HTML5 is a recognized as a set of standards-based specifications for so-called modern Web applications with multimedia capabilities, leveraging JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets.

"The only problem that we have is that these stock browsers that come with iOS and with older Android [systems] are just not good enough for HTML5's new features and don't get them anymore." Heilmann blames hardware vendors for this problem: "What we need is to have is a way to actually update older browsers on older devices, and that's not in the interest of a lot of hardware makers because they just want to sell the new hardware." HTML5, though, is a first-class citizen on mobile environments like Mozilla's Firefox OS and Samsung-Intel Tizen platforms, Heilman said. It also gets first-class treatment on Google's Chrome OS, he added.

But an analyst was skeptical of Heilmann’s criticism of mobile browsers and device hardware vendors. "I'm not 100 percent sure I buy this observation," said Jeffrey Hammond, of Forrester. "Google was pretty aggressive about swapping out the Android browser for Chrome when 4.0 came out. I'd also observe that Safari and Chrome on my three-year old iPad 2 are pretty capable and can handle advanced JavaScript libraries and score well when it comes to HTML5 compatibility; they've both been updated with new capabilities over time." Older devices, Hammond said, do not always get updated. But he added that users replace their phones more often than their PCs, thus giving access to the latest capabilities.

Heilmann champions HTML5 over native application development, noting that technologies like Adobe's PhoneGap enable the use of HTML5 for deploying native applications. HTML5 applications are designed to be flexible, while native applications are constricted to one environment, he said. But Heilmann also sees Adobe's proprietary Flash Player technology sticking around for a while, even if users do not want to install proprietary software. "Flash will not go away because of DRM (digital rights management) issues, for example, and things like streaming video that needs to be adaptive because that's not part of the HTML5 spec yet."

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