April 09, 2013

HTML5-Capable Browsers are Making Inroads, says New ABI Research Report

There has been more than a bit of debate about the impact and importance of HTML5 in terms of potentially taking a chunk of the app store market share away, by enabling developers to be Web-centric for the delivery of their intellectual property.  

ABI Research (NewsAlert) details this in its most recent Mobile Applications Research Service report. 

The good news is that the research is first predicting that mobile devices with HTML5-compatible browsers will total 1.4 billion at end of 2013. This represents a very healthy annual increase of 87 percent. The not-so-good news is that while the proliferation of mobile devices that are HTML5 capable has reached more than critical mass, ABI found that mobile apps developers in practice continue to choose the native model over the Web for their releases.  

In short, this is like the line from the play, Waiting for Godot, where the constant refrain is, “When will he ever come?” Translated, the question remains: when will it really be the year of HTML5?

ABI Research senior analyst Aapo Markkanen summed up the findings: “While some two years ago it still looked like 2013 could be the Year of Web App, it’s now looking like that this will prove more like the Year of Hybrid. HTML5 is making strides, but mainly through developers that take advantage of increasingly capable cross-platform development tools. Meanwhile, there aren’t many signs of full-blown web apps effectively challenging the native way.”

Hope is on the Horizon

While the natives still rule, they’re getting restless. ABI did find that two parallel trends that they contend are going to accelerate HTML5 developer interest to get moving. The report notes that, “The support for HTML5 features and browsers will be gradually baked deeper into operating systems, making the web apps speedier and more responsive. This will be partially driven by the upcoming wave of open-source platforms – Firefox OS, Sailfish, Tizen, and Ubuntu (NewsAlert) – but at the end of the day the most significant factor may turn out to be Android’s eventual convergence with Chrome.” 

Given all of the growing antitrust concerns surrounding not just Google’s (News Alert) dominance via search, but now concerns about Android as well, the convergence issue may end up being decided by policy makers and not technologists.

Second, Markkanen sees hope arising from the hardware vendors. He contends that, “There’s a lot of scope to achieve a more robust HTML5 support already in the chip level…Especially Intel has lately displayed strategic interest in pushing the envelope here. Also Samsung’s (NewsAlert) collaboration with Mozilla to develop a whole new browser engine, dubbed Servo, is worth following. A truly ground-up mobile browser could certainly ease the bottleneck that currently holds back the mobile Web.”

So is the HTML5 Godot going to arrive or like in the play are we going to have to continue to wait? The suspicion, given all of the activities around things like the aforementioned “baking” process, the fast track that WebRTC is on, and the efforts to transform the browser experience, is that while over one billion HTML5-capable devices might not be the tipping point, catching the imagination of developers might be closer than we think. Monetization opportunities are what drive markets, and there’s nothing like a seemingly ubiquitous and under-developed capability to conquer that could move things along. 

HTML5 is going to be, one way or another, part of the industry furniture going forward, and as such there is little doubt that people are going to want to use it to enrich their online experiences.   This year may not be the “Year of HTML5,” but ABI’s research certainly portends that its promise may be fulfilled sooner than many skeptics believe.

Edited by Braden Becker


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