Mark Zuckerberg did not kill HTML5 but you might believe that from the headlines published after his TechCrunch Disrupt interview.
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. Because it just wasn’t there.
It’s not that HTML5 is bad. I’m actually, long-term, really excited about it. One of the things that’s interesting is we actually have more people on a daily basis using mobile Web Facebook than we have using our iOS or Android apps combined. So mobile web is a big thing for us.
We built this internal framework that we called FaceWeb, which was basically this idea that we could take the infrastructure that we built out for pushing code every day, not having to submit to an app store, to build web code on the web stack that we have, and that we could translate that into mobile development. We just never were able to get the quality we wanted.
We burned two years. That’s really painful. Probably we will look back saying that is one of the biggest mistakes if not the biggest strategic mistake that we made. But we’re coming out of that now. The iOS app, I think, is in good shape, and the Android one will hopefully be soon.
Is that the end for HTML5? No. There are several reasons why you shouldn’t worry…
1. Facebook Still Uses HTML5
Facebook’s developers may be working on native mobile apps, but the primary website continues to use HTML5. That has not changed. Zuckerberg also admits more users access the website on mobile devices than use the native app.
Unless you’re a particularly active Facebook user, the mobile web offers a recognizable experience with nothing to install or update.
2. We Don’t Know What Facebook Was Doing
Facebook developers attempted to build a complex browser-based app which worked on multiple mobile platforms. We don’t know what they were trying to achieve or how they approached the problem, but I guess it involved features such as audio, video, camera integration, file uploads, offline processing and responsive interfaces over relatively sedate mobile networks.
Were issues really such a surprise? HTML5 is an evolving standard. Browser support for mobile hardware is patchy at best but even Zuckerberg remains excited about its future.
3. Native Will ALWAYS be Better than Non-Native!
What offers a faster, more responsive interface:
- a program running directly on an OS, or
- a program running within a web browser running on that OS?
Why the debate?
If time and money is no object, native applications will always be slicker. If you’re prepared to invest in distinct versions for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, Symbian, Windows Phone, Java, WebOS, and a few game consoles, then go for it. If not, an HTML5 application could offer 90% of what you need on 99% of devices for 10% of the development cost.
4. Facebook’s Problems are Not Yours
If you’re tempted to abandon HTML5 because of the Zuckerberg interview, perhaps it’s time to leave the technology profession. HTML5 may not be the ideal solution for your application, but failing to consider it because of something said by someone who runs a successful social network is ludicrous.
5. It’s All About the Share Price
Until the IPO, few people cared about Facebook’s failure to monetize the mobile web or deliver a great smartphone experience. Then the share price plummeted. Understandably, the stockholders — who own the company — aren’t pleased.
I don’t doubt Facebook had development problems, but passing a little blame to HTML5 is very convenient. Zuckerberg claimed Facebook was at the cutting-edge of technology but it let them down. It wasn’t their fault, but they have the funds and expertise to learn from that mistake. Clever.
Facebook’s stock price rose 7.9% immediately after the interview.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.