The Great Mobile Debate: Native Apps vs. HTML 5

By 2017, Swedish mobile phone provider Ericsson estimates that there will be 9 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, including nearly 3 billion smartphones (pdf). With more people than ever accessing information via mobile devices, it’s essential marketers provide mobile-friendly content to multiple devices to reach existing and prospective customers.
In today’s environment, where 87 percent of the world has a mobile-cellular subscription (pdf). businesses cannot afford to lose a significant portion of the mobile audience due to incompatibility with certain browsers, devices or platforms. For a company to reach its mobile target market, it must provide online content that spans multiple devices and platforms.

The cross-platform experience matured dramatically in 2011 with the introduction of HTML 5, a new Web standard that is expected to be an official W3C specification by 2014. HTML 5 mobile Web apps deliver richer user experiences and greater complexity of graphics with game-like interactivity. Prior to this improvement, those who deployed content were limited to Adobe Flash, which is incompatible with some of the most popular mobile platforms.

Mobile compatibility wasn’t even a consideration for companies developing Web experiences, until recently. According to research by Ericsson, approximately 40 percent of all mobile phones sold in Q2 of 2012 were smartphones. This trend has driven mobile compatibility toward the top of the priority list, and a focus on mobile optimization has become a base-level requirement. Marketers now routinely consider, “How will this app work on an iPhone or an Android or a Samsung tablet?” Ultimately, awareness of this critical engagement element leads to higher quality and more satisfying user experiences.

Trends suggest the future lies in cross-platform development with HTML 5; however, mobile apps still make sense in many situations. When choosing between a native app and a mobile website, program intent and objectives should guide the decision-making process.

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  • Mark Hawkins

    This post is slightly confusing as it refers to HTML5 vs Native apps, as being either or – which is not the case. You can build an HTML 5 Native app (also known as Hybrid Apps), by coding using HTML5/JS/CSS and compiling the app as a Native app using Phonegap or some other tool.

    I think the post title should be Web Apps vs Native Apps… as this is actually what this post is about.

    The last point about ‘Content Updates’ is also inaccurate, as a Native app can have a CMS behind it to be used to push new content through to the app. The App User will simply download any content changes when the re-access the app again. If an App functionality change is required, then yes a new deployment will need to be made.


  • DG3


    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. We do agree with your suggestion of a title change as it would certainly apply.

    As for your second question regarding content updates, we’ve seen a trend of apps not having CMS behind them. The reason for this choice is simply to keep costs down and stay within budget.

    Thanks again!

  • RajeshBlue

    Good article. In the days to come we can expect the debate to gradually come to the centre stage. My belief this is that this is not going to be a mutually exclusive scenario. HTML5 would use less of computing at device levels and more at the server levels whereas the native apps use computing resources at both ends but the requirement at the servers is relatively lesser in this scenario. So will we only need a smartphone with a browser and that’s it? Sounds quite impossible. Apps are not just dumb client code sitting on the phones/tablets and perform quite many actions in the background and many even when we are disconnected. The native apps, in my view, have quite a future ahead.

  • Alexandra Murashova

    Tablets Beat Out Smartphones for Web Pages Views
    After looking at 100 billion visits to 1,000+ websites worldwide, the Adobe Digital Index is reporting that tablets have taken over smartphones for the first time in global web traffic generation. While PC’s are still the predominant medium for web surfers, with tablet sales beating out PC sales by more than half at the end of 2012, it is evident that mobile devices will very soon be THE place to go for web browsing. That said, it’s virtually impossible for companies not to jump on the mobile bandwagon, no matter the company size or industry, and be visible anywhere.

  • Alexandra Murashova

    HTML5 has provided an opportunity for rapid development of web-based mobile apps even by developers just getting started. Following a write-once-deploy-everywhere strategy, web apps deploy easily and are easy to manage and distribute changes and updates. Being web based, they can also run across multiple mobile devices. This has allowed for a myriad of apps to be created relatively inexpensively and in short time. That said HTML5 has some significant drawbacks especially for consideration in the enterprise mobile app space.