Mobile app developers' interest in HTML5 is slipping

Quarterly survey of developers also finds NSA revelations are not having much impact on mobile development in the U.S.

Interest in the use of HTML5 for mobile application development has begun slipping, according to the latest edition of a quarterly survey of developers.

The Q4 2013 Mobile Trends Report, compiled by mobile tools vendor Appcelerator and IDC and released Thursday, found the number of developers who said they were very interested in building apps on HTML5 had fallen to 59.9 percent.

This was the lowest level since Appcelerator began tracking the specification in April 2011. "Interest in HTML5 peaked in July 2012 at 72.7 percent and has shown and uneven but downward slope since," the report said.

The report was based on a November survey of 6,698 Appcelerator tools users.

Appcelerator expects the gap between HTML5 and native mobile apps will continue to grow, said Michael King,  Appcelerator director of enterprise strategy. "The promise of HTML5 is you write once, run everywhere and this is not happening because of the divergence of browser features." HTML5 does not offer the performance and access to native features that a native app can, he said.

"We're going to see HTML5 relegated to just a small portion of apps," including forms, content consumption and customer acquisition apps, said King. Native will be for everything else, including enterprise systems such CRM and mobile banking as well as games, he added.  Appcelerator in the report noted that HTML5 has had issues with the recent release of Apple's iOS 7. Platform vendors want to differentiate the capabilities of their own operating system rather than write to a generalized mean, the report said. A Mozilla official, HTML5 evangelist Christian Heilmann, recently argued that HTML5 support on browsers has been inadequate.

Also in the report,  Facebook's decision to go with native development over HTML5 has powered the mobile rise of the social networking site. Facebook also has done well by investing in readily available, mobile-optimized APIs. Two-thirds of developers reported connecting their apps to Facebook.

The report also states that 64.1 percent of developers worldwide are rethinking some key aspects of mobile development in light of revelations of widespread digital surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency. But in the United States, 43 percent said they would have no change in their development practices as a result of the revelations. Just 20.2 percent of U.S developers surveyed are considering more rigorous data encryption while 21.5 percent reported being more wary of public cloud. Also, 15.2 percent are more rigorous about secure coding.

"Developers are looking at it and saying yep, it's a problem but it's not a huge deal to us," King said. Appcelerator had expected the NSA impact to be much greater.

Appcelerator offers a platform for building native mobile applications via JavaScript. The report said, "The future will be written in JavaScript," with developers favoring it over Java, Objective-C, C#, Ruby and C/C++. In the report, 47.2 percent ranked JavaScript as the most relevant language for mobile development, with 22.8 percent ranking Java as most-relevant. Appcelerator customers are opting for JavaScript because it enables them to build a single code base in JavaScript and have it suited for multiple platforms.

Mobile development, meanwhile, is straining traditional three-tier Web architectures that have included layers for data source, SOA/middleware, and client. The report said 34.7 percent of respondents found existing three-tier infrastructures inadequate for mobile demands. While these architectures have leveraged data payloads based on SOAP and XML, mobile really needs REST or JSON, King said. Appcelerator recommends a mobile-optimized infrastructure leveraging data optimization, payload transformation, synchronization/offline access, and orchestration of multiple data sources.

In other findings, the report said the watchword for mobile development now is "scale." A number of response statistics point out expectations and complexities with scaling the delivery of mobile applications. Rising ubiquity of applications is driving demands for scale. Nearly half of all respondents report application release frequency as monthly or faster, while 81 percent build applications to run on at least two mobile OSes.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.