BII REPORT: Why Facebook Defriended HTML5 -- For Now

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Many think HTML5, a new technology that allows developers to build rich web-based apps that run on any device via a standard web browser, will save the mobile web.

However, in August, Facebook sent shock waves through the HTML5 world when it released the latest update of its iOS app. In this update, Facebook abandoned its HTML5-heavy app for one built from scratch with Apple’s iOS SDK.

In a new report from BI Intelligence, we explain why Facebook decided to abandon HTML5 for the time being, analyse the state of HTML5 and native apps, and detail why it may take even longer for HTML5 to win out than previously thought. 

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Here’s a brief overview of why Facebook defriended HTML5:

  • HTML5 app functionality still leaves much to be desired: HTML5 is a set of related standards. This is key to understanding the problems that beset HTML5. As such, it has progressed relatively slowly. Facebook’s iOS product manager explained to The Verge, “Up until now, we’ve looked at scale, but we’ve become aware that while we have a great mobile website, embedding HTML5 inside an app isn’t what people expect.” 
  • And, HTML5 has a fragmentation problem: This is the very problem it is often trumpeted as a solution to. According to Appcelerator’s Michael King, there is a 30% differential on feature support across browsers. In other words, some HTML5 features may be supported in Chrome, but not in Safari or Firefox. This problem carries into mobile browsers as well.
  • The success of Facebook’s mobile website underscored this issue:  Just last April, Facebook said that its HTML5 mobile site had twice the number of users as its iOS and Android apps combined. This actually presented a problem for Facebook: iOS and Android’s mobile browsers don’t support a consistent feature set, including photo uploads, a critical feature for Facebook. 
  • Apple and Google refused to help: Facebook started a Mobile W3C Community Group to promote the development of mobile browsers. Apple and Google, who combine for more than 85% of the global smartphone market and have a vested interest in the native app ecosystem, never signed on. The dream of building one HTML5 app and deploying across all platforms never becme a reality.
  • But, the promise of HTML5 remains: Zuckerberg had this to say about HTML5: “It’s not that HTML5 is bad. I’m actually, long-term, really excited about it” His regret was not that Facebook spent two years dithering on HTML5, but that it spent two years on HTML5 when it wasn’t ready, or, as he put it, “it just wasn’t there.” 

In full, BI Intelligence’s reports on HTML5 analyse:

  • What HTML5 is, giving an overview of how it is a technology done by committee
  • Why the HTML5-vs-Apps debate matters, breaking down its impact on distribution, monetization, platform power and network effects, and functionality.
  • The success of an HTML5 pioneer, The Financial Times.How and when HTML5 will take over, laying out how it has all the hallmarks of a disruptive technology.
  • What an HTML5 future will look like, with the promise of richer and more interactive experiences. 
  • Why native apps are winning now, and why it is taking so long for HTML5 to win out

To access BI Intelligence’s full reports on HTML5, sign up for a free trial subscription here.

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