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Mastering the HTML 5 application platform

23 September 2013
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Reading time: 3 minutes

When I’m introspective about the last few years I think the biggest mistake that we made, as a company, is betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native…

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO of Facebook

This statement by Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook’s move from HTML 5 to native for their mobile applications, given in a fireside talk at Disrupt SF 2012, caused a lively discussion in the weeks to follow about whether HTML 5, after having been the up and coming application platform for the future, can ever fulfill the expectations set in it, or if it is going down the drain already.

Recently, with LinkedIn, another high-profile company followed Facebook in their move from HTML 5 to native on mobile. Is this the start of a landslide? Are Google, Microsoft, Adobe and other big players heavily invested in HTML 5 technologies essentially screwed?

I do not think so.

Is HTML 5 really that bad?

The main reason for Facebook to move to native applications on mobile platforms were poor user reviews about the performance of the newsfeed view in the iPhone app, which had been implemented with HTML 5 technology. The new native mobile applications have a noticeable better performance in the news feed, implying the following simple reasoning:

If HTML 5 equals bad performance and native applications equal good performance, that must mean, that HTML 5 is the weaker platform for mobile applications.

This implied shortcoming of HTML 5 as an application platform prompted Sencha, creator of the ExtJS and Sencha Touch frameworks, to write Fastbook, an HTML 5 web application using Facebook’s APIs that delivers essentially the same functionality as Facebook’s own native iPhone app.

The goal of Sencha’s developers was to prove that an HTML 5 web application can perform equal to, or even outperform a native app. And, amazingly,  Fastbook does just that!

What does this mean? Are Facebook’s developers not as smart as Sencha’s developers? Or is there another reason why one of the leading technology companies of our time cannot deliver an adequate user experience, while a comparatively small company with limited resources can?

I think that some of the smartest people in our industry work at Facebook and that most of their developers are really, really good. In consequence, I do not think that the intellectual prowess or the superior coding skills of Sencha’s developers allowed them to achieve what Facebook couldn’t. As developers of HTML 5 Javascript application frameworks and the tooling around them, their key competence lies in understanding all elements of developing such products.

Sencha’s advantage is in their mastery of the HTML 5 application platform as a whole!

Mastering an application platform

In my opinion, to really master any application platform it is not enough to know its programming language. An application platform is more than “just the language”. In a series of blog articles I aim to highlight the skills required to become a master on the HTML 5 application platform:

  • Part 1: Language
    The Babylonian confusion of tongues: HTML 5, CSS 3 and JavaScript
  • Part 2: Runtime
    3 runtimes for 3 brothers: Content, Style and Behavior
  • Part 3: Tools
    The Binford™ portfolio: Libraries, Testing, Debugging and IDEs
  • Part 4: Best Practices
    We’re still developing web applications, right?!

Conclusion

Achieving mastery in anything takes time, constant practice and experience, but pays off in the ability to craft great products that meet your customer’s needs. This article series describes an outline of the skills required to become a master HTML 5 web application developer.

How far along the way are you?

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