HTML5 Has Its Own Fragmentation Problem

Developer Interest

HTML5 is often trumpeted as the solution to the apps-web debate (something we’ve previously argued is a red herring). It may not be the cure-all some are hoping for though.Recently, we spoke with Michael King, Director of Enterprise Strategy at Appcelerator. Appcelerator’s quarterly survey is filled out by over 3,600 developers and, as such, it has a pretty robust view of developer sentiment.

Developer interest in HTML5 has been ticking up since Appcelerator started tracking it in Q3 2011. HTML5 developer interest jumped 6 percentage points in Q2 2012 to 73 per cent, not that far below Android phone. (King told us the size of the increase may be the result of a larger sample size, but still reflects sentiment nonetheless.)

Despite high interest, developer are only interested in using HTML5 for a portion of their app, not the whole thing. King said that “only 4 per cent of developers are interested in developing a pure HTML5 app.” This mirrors the results of a January survey of technology executives at more than 100 Fortune 500 companies. It found that 74 per cent were considering using HTML5, but only 7 per cent thought it would replace their native apps.

King told us that the promise of HTML5 “is very interesting, but the delivery to date is much less.” HTML5, it turns out, is challenged by a problem that it was supposed to help solve. “There is a significant amount of fragmentation on browsers,” says King.

According to King, there is a 30 per cent differential on feature support across browsers. For example, some HTML5 features may be supported on Safari, but not Chrome. A consistent feature set is not supported, even within Android browsers. This makes it very difficult to create a pure HTML5 app that can be used across platforms, which is at the core of its promise.

The fallacy of HTML5 evangelists, King argues, is that “standards bodies are moving quickly to integrate new features and … two, the device and platform operators will stop innovating new features.” It has been five years and no standards have been ratified, and he hasn’t seen any movement to hurry the process. King thinks the best thing they can do is ratify standards as quickly as possible and give developers a best practices methodology for implementing HTML5 into browsers. Until then, it will be beset by a problem similar to what has hindered the native apps it is supposed to replace.   

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