James Governor's Monkchips

The iPad: Nice Piece of Glass! Here comes HTML5

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If you have followed RedMonk for any time you’ll know that we are strong advocates for open source and open standards. Open ecosystems create more economic and innovation opportunities than closed systems. So far, so Adam Smith. Well over the last couple of years two companies in particular have challenged some of our basic tenets- namely Apple and Facebook. As the Internet has driven business, so we see more barriers to entry being raised.

Open creates opportunities but its also important to note that in the main customers and consumers don’t buy open- they buy the best user experience. The best packager therefore invariably wins in a given tech wave – Apple and Facebook are master packagers, just as in other recent waves Google, Microsoft, Dell have been. Best packager may not take all, but they usually take the lion’s share.

We’re fairly pragmatic at RedMonk though, for all the attention to open. Thus – it probably hasn’t gone unnoticed that our new RedMonk Analytics service is behind the firewall, for paying clients only. If data is the new Intel Inside, then of course we want to play. Are we learning from Apple? Perhaps. But we’re also using the platform to showcase other data sources such as Infochimps.

And, of course, Apple’s influence is rather more significant than RedMonk’s. Never mind 20th century style barriers to entry however – what about barriers to participation? The platform with the most volume, which is invariably the platform with the most developers, wins – often because the developer experience has been packaged so well.

But developers shouldn’t write to closed platforms if they are concerned with economic opportunities, no matter how slick the user experience. Apple is currently doing everything it can to capture developers. Its platform choices and policies make it very clear developers enter the Apple ecosystem at Apple’s pleasure. If Apple is displeased, the developer may find their route to market cut off. I call this the Permission-based Web. So far Apple remains the web developer’s workstation of choice. But this could be changing.

I came away from Adobe MAX last month having seen the future of digital publishing and engagement. And guess what? It’s multiplatform. That’s right- there is this cool thing called HTML5 coming. People love to say how Adobe will get killed by HTML5, but its seldom remarked that HTML5 also carries significant implications for Apple’s current business model – the Permission-based Web.

I saw Martha Stewart’s new app, and she doesn’t seem to want her peonies to open on only one platform. The iPad may be first, but Stewart is clearly betting on Adobe’s tool chain rather than a particular device. Adobe made it very clear at Max that its tool chains are now going to support HTML. Adobe is now contributing to Webkit, through Google. If there was a single over-riding theme at this year’s MAX it was that the iPad is just another piece of glass. A hot piece of glass undoubtedly, a beautiful place to create engaging user experiences. But not the only game in town. The Dell Streak does web experiences very well indeed. And it just got Android’s latest version 2.2. Then there is the Galaxy Tab, as reviewed by Android evangelist Tim Bray.

Just to encourage me to post today I noticed this from Fred Wilson. He is a sharp and influential investor and I will quote him at length:

I saw two HTML5 apps yesterday. One running in my Android browser. The other running in the iPad browser. They looked and worked exactly like their mobile app counterparts. It was a mind opening moment.

There still are issues. When I went to show one of the HTML5 mobile apps later, my mobile data connection wasn’t there and I couldn’t load it in my Android browser. But a friend told me you could cache all the elements, including the database, on the phone and deliver an offline experience in HTML5 in the browser.

I’ve always disliked the idea that we have to download apps on our phones when the apps we use on the web are loaded in the browser on demand. But I’ve accepted the mobile app paradigm as something we will be living with for the next five years.

Yesterday Rupert Murdoch announced he wanted to take his behind the firewall news and make it available only on the iPad. That should do it. Enter the Daily. I guess that unlike his august UK news organ The Sun it won’t have tits on page three. Because Jobs doesn’t like that kind of thing, which annoyed the German news industry, which is fond of der busen. Bild Digital’s CEO Donata Hopfen says:

“Today they censor nipples, tomorrow editorial content.”

Interesting to note then the the Zeit Online has just nailed it, according to GigaOm. I haven’t seen the app from Information Architects yet, but here is an online video:

Now the first thing that struck me is that the video says the web site is “iPad optimised”. But the real point is that it’s a web app, not an iPad app. It’s written in HTML5, and Zeit controls customer billing and everything else- its not an app store app, its a web app. As IA explains it:

But, however exciting the app store might be—there is no rational reason to neglect the most obvious iPad news platform: The website. The chance that you sell your app will only rise if your have a strong presence in the browser—given, that it’s worth the money. Developing an HTML based news app is not just cheaper and faster, it also gives you more editorial and technical control over your contents. More importantly, HTML-apps are in many ways more convenient for the user: They’re easy to use, they’re more medium appropriate and in that sense: more appealing and—they’re free. No long downloads, no “how do I get to…”, no weird crashes, no trouble to share, copy, paste, comment, tweet, link to. They just work.

Sounds good doesn’t it? Apple on the other hand pitches its enterprise app store program like so:

Gain access to resources that will help you develop proprietary, in-house iOS apps that you can distribute to employees or members of your organization.

[Hey Apple] The 1970s called and they want their proprietary models back. Its 2010. HTML is indeed the future. Microsoft says so. Adobe says so. Everyone says so. Everything else is a bridge to take us there.

The basics are obvious. Develop web apps for the widest market penetration. It seems crazy to build apps that only run on one platform after investing so much time learning Javascript and HTML and CSS and all that goodness. One of RedMonk’s clients is called Nitobi. With its platform PhoneGap developers can develop apps for the browser, before adding native platform flare, geolocation, accelerometer etc. Titanium from Appcelerator (another client) offers a similar approach. As I mentioned above Adobe and Microsoft are both now clearly committing to HTML in their toolchains. That’s not to say Silverlight and Flash are dead, by the way. IBM? It’s both a PhoneGap committer and an enthusiastic support of Dojo- allowing developers to write Javascript but deploy native looking apps to the iPhone.

Then of course there is the awesome jQuery Javascript library, which is now being optimised for mobile (and supported in Adobe and Microsoft tool chains).

Developers absolutely should be learning Javascript – whether you have a .NET or Java back story. If you grew up on the web you already knew this. Going Apple only really does seem like a point in time, not an ongoing strategy. Apple is in fantastic shape, and its building products people want to buy… but there is more than one way to build an iPad app, and only one of them allows for cross platform deployment. If the world of the API-driven web has taught us anything its that you can’t second guess User Interfaces. Someone else will always build one better. If you’re only allowing for deployment on one platform that cuts you off from innovation. So to all the businesses out there considering an API-driven business strategy, invest in the open web – that’s where the money, and control of your own destiny is going to be.

The same goes for developers.

I look forward to seeing how, if at all, Fred’s epiphany affects Twitter development (Fred is a major investor in the company). At the moment Twitter is building native Android, Apple, and Blackberry apps, all slightly different. Does that make sense?

update: Apple bans single station radio apps. they are like fart apps, apparently. Danish Android magazine banned from the app store.


  1. There are absolutely no implications for Apple’s current business model. This article might make sense if the iPad was not a first-class device for viewing HTML5 apps.

    If you put your App in the App Store, Apple wins. If you make it with HTML5 and put it on the web, Apple wins.

    Apple makes it money off selling hardware. Not sure why the tech world repeatedly forgets that. Only about 1% of its profit comes from selling apps, music, video, etc. iTunes is a break-even business: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-20008540-37.html

    Also, proprietary doesn’t mean what you think it means. If you make an in-house app via HTML5, its still proprietary, by definition.

  2. […] a Comment James Governor, @monkchips, makes some great points about UI design in his latest blog post. James discusses how Adobe is changing it’s toolchain to better support, endorse HTML5 and […]

  3. You are aware that WebKit is actually open-sourced by Apple?

    The slant of your article somewhat suggests that Apple is behind the times and pursuing the wrong strategy, as compared to Microsoft, Adobe, Google, etc…

    It could be said that Apple is pursuing two strategies at the same time, hedging its bets on apps for now and helping to drive HTML5 development for when it becomes the future money train for content.

    Microsoft, Adobe, Google…their choice in embracing HTML5 is less one of predicting the future and more one of having no other options. Google’s future has always been tied to the web. Adobe sees that they must go where content owners must go, and that’s to the web. Microsoft has given up trying to make Silverlight ubiquitous, and instead triumphs its new support for HTML5.

    In reality, Apple is the only one with enough momentum to make use of both paradigms. “Going Apple” never meant ignoring the future of content. Apple is making waves through the internet ecosystem, and everyone else is having to realign.

  4. You are missing on huge, fundamental element to the rise of Apps in the first place.

    Its not that HTML doesnt render, its that the experience of browsing the web and using web “applications”, is an incredibly uneven, and to a degree displeasing experience to the user.

    Browsers are partly at fault for their terrible, unusable rendering logic which causes pages to shift location on the screen as they “fill in”, in unpredictable ways depending on the latency of the network resources of “all the little” crap that goes into a web page. — It is barely what I would describe as a “user interface”, its a network interface that when its finally done shifting and slogging, will present you with more of the same as soon as you click *anything*.

    No, apps are not about the web. And webapps, even on a fast phone are killed by the browser and killed by the network.

    When I use a client app, the screen presents itself whole, it does not jar my eyes, causing them to shift around, or delay my focus until something is downloaded, its THERE.

    If you understood the actual user experience difference between the web and stopped playing platform mindgames with yourself you would realize that the web itself is a really half assed and unsatisfying application delivery platform,
    and thats why Apple doesnt use it, and people love apps.

    Push apps to the web and people will hate them.

  5. Makes perfect sense to me.

  6. Where does the annoying fact that Apple, Jobs push web apps 1st but developers cried out for an SDK for app development?
    The article confuses web with apps.
    It’s permission based apps.
    Not permission based web.
    Any dev can make a web app and they’re free to.
    Apple has been clear on this. If you want an app in the app store then you o by their rules. If you want a web app – knock yourself out.

  7. People forget that Apple is in the hit’s business and they’ve had a great run but they won’t keep producing big hits. In fact, if you look out a couple years, it’s easy to imagine iPhone and iPad becoming a modest niche along with the Mac. Do they have another huge hit in their lab (Steve’s brain)? Perhaps, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    Great piece btw.

  8. “But developers shouldn’t write to closed platforms if they are concerned with economic opportunities, no matter how slick the user experience.”

    What a bunch of hog-wash.

  9. Please, raise the bar, sir, and hire a proofreader.

  10. “Push apps to the web and people will hate them.”? Dude it’s not so complicated, apps are like delicious cocktails, you just need a commonly known place to hang out & order them.

    The best places are ranked by,

    a) ease-of-access: Apple nailed this on iOS by putting the store-front smack on your desktop.

    b) price: $.99 happy hour apps are hard to beat.

    c) popularity: We like to hang out where others are. iOS happened to be the first night-club on the block.

  11. While I agree that eventually a lot of apps can and hopefully will be written in HTML5, there are still certain kinds of apps that will still be built to run on the native platform, such as apps that run as background services or take advantage of the platforms scheduling and notification protocols. And I don’t know that the web browsers on mobile devices will ever be given full access to the mobile OS simply because of the security risk that entails.

  12. It’s called “Zeit”

  13. James, you’re getting a bit absolutist for an analyst that usually sees how things fit together more completely. It’s not a winner-take-all end game. Some apps work better on a local platform, native toolchain, optimized into the hardware, fixed system, no browser barrier. Usually have a higher development cost than the average web app. These are, of course, generalizations.

    Just look at the Samsung Galaxy response. Some people like it. Different form factor. Different purpose. iPad app onto a Galaxy? Most wouldn’t feel right or be a great experience. The web gives you a “common denominator” approach, and that usually gets offset by a pile of javascript conditionals adjusting for the nuances of browsers.

    I tell you, trying to use a mutual fund screening system on the web today was horribly painful. The state and ability to pull things in and out of a spreadsheet app is just not happening. The app is older and could be improved with some newer approached and technology, but really, I want my data to be able to flow back and forth securely between devices, but when I’m working, I want it to be here. That’s why the browsers keep adding in desktop features. Because the experience in the browser is and has been inferior.

    WebGL? Offline Storage? Hardware graphics acceleration? Codec hardware acceleration? These are all desktop features that get pulled into the browser over time as it trails behind. It’s not surprising, and it’s not going to change. Standards move slower than most proprietary innovation. Web apps are usually for a cheaper and/or broader approach, with a radically different revenue model.

    It just baffles me that development gets lumped into a bucket of “proprietary platform” or “web standards”. Both are two ends of a continuum. OpenGL is pretty cross-platform in the bulk of the API. And it’s well defined on experience. There’s shades of gray all over. Are you telling me the same technology and approach for Farmville is appropriate for Doom3 or Call of Duty Black Ops? I don’t hear the game companies complaining about supporting 5 or 6 platforms, let alone 2 or 3.

    Of course, the desktop pulled in automatic updates and notfications and sync from the web in many ways to bring those strengths across too, so it’s not totally a one-way street.

    But it’s not a one-lane street either.

  14. […] over at Red Monk (a great bunch of analysts I alternately seem to agree with and take issue with) posted a take on the mobile platform development continuum and HTML5 as an alternative. Take a read and the disagreement I voice below will have a better context.   I’m […]

  15. There are other advantages of being a native app versus a web app: most app stores provide some type of marketing help (app discovery) and a way to monetize your service. Apple is really good at that!

  16. Couple of points:
    * Apple seems to be promoting the use of HTML5 webapps and doesn’t seem to consider it as a threat. At a recent keynote, Steve Jobs claimed that iOS devices offer 2 App stores – one curated by Apple and another one that is free for all (the web).
    Apple updated MobileSafari with some cool features yesterday with the release of iOS 4.2.1:

    * I use Apps on my iPad as well as Safari. As it currently stands, there are native apps that the web cannot match. And there are web services I prefer in Safari than an App.

    * Regarding Apple’s enterprise app store program. There are many of tasks for which the web alone will not suffice (yet). If a company implements a great HTML5 web service for their employees, it will work great on the iPad too. Best of both worlds.

  17. Also, linking to a review of a Google device by a Google evangelist is a bit .. 🙂

    Here is another point of view:

    1. alchemy – yeah i know about the gizmodo review. but then – like i say in the post, i *like* the Dell Streak. I thought Tim’s review was solid, which is why I linked to it. I have known him a long time. I respect his views. And i did identify the source of the review, to help the reader parse it. apple is clearly a supporter of HTML5 – indeed its innovating as aggressively as anyone there – but the story its telling is all about the app store. Enterprise will, and are, choosing iPads. “If a company implements a great HTML5 web service for their employees, it will work great on the iPad too. Best of both worlds.” – totally agree. its very nice hardware, and ux.

      dallas – don’t know about absolutist. Honestly I am still running a dialectic here. I just wanted to get down some of my rethinking. But i do think the app store is just too controlling, and too arbitrary, frankly, to rely on. Why do developers have to go to WWDC? So they can meet Apple folks that can help them get them their apps through. Or there is that developer that Steve Jobs called on to help him through the process of delivering an app that apple would approve. gimme a break.

      Slaven – i have never struggled to find apps on the web. its not broken.

      Brian Swartzfager – point well made, except that WebOS, for example does allow a lot more access to phone system services. as does android. its a less controlled experience, which may well, as you rightly say, create security challenges.

      Dave Nelson – guilty as charged. “its” – ahem. thanks @marshallk

      big- oops.

      mimosa – very much so. and i think webkit governance is going to become a real problem for the industry going forward. it needs a true independent governance structure. and the companies you mention are all innovating. apple isn’t the only company with a direction, though clearly it has an incredible focus, and it indeed doing a great job of illustrating the art of the possible.

      Tom – brilliant point, a bit of history i didn’t include. As you say Apple did originally go with a more web like SDK and it didn’t work out. But like any good company, and apple is clearly a great company, they changed the strategy in line with market reality – and they have certainly ended with a walled garden model with quite high walls.

      Wayne Bloss- i actually think hogwash is pretty reasonable feedback.

  18. Though i agree it is not all black and white, i see some defensive reflexes in the first comments. I agree with james here. Gaming, yes, that requires a lot more than just interface optimisation. But it doesn’t make sense for current web publishers. Also agree that there will be apps/os’s that need to accellerate html5 and more of the browser activity should be built in into the OS. That is ok, as long as keep the standards for publishing. Memento backweb, marimba, etc. Let’s not go there.

    At least this all is very fascinating to see it come to life.

  19. Serious? Adobe and Microsoft are the main reasons why the HTML 5 spec has been delayed for so long. Google’s support for Flash (closed system) isn’t helping HTML 5 either.

    The biggest boost to HTML 5 is thanks to Apple hating Flash. Thank you Apple!

    1. Riley- thanks for taking the time. apple is of course a forcing factor in innovation. its a master packager. but i would say the biggest boost to HTML5 is web developers… not companies. its driven by the roots. google meanwhile is pragmatic – like i say *bridges* to cross platform. Tools continue to matter.

  20. Hi James:

    Excellent article. Thanks.

    Html5 is not limited to Web applications, it works very well for PushToTest as a desktop and mobile application development platform.

    PushToTest built the TestMaker Editor using Rich Internet Application (RIA) techniques. We used JQuery, Sencha (Ext-JS,) Javascript, and Appcelerator Titanium. The result is a single code base for an application that runs on Windows, Linux, Unix, Mac OS X, iPhone, iPad, and Android platforms. The Editor features integration with the desktop and file system. It looks like a desktop application, and yet it runs in a browser too.

    We recorded a screencast on our techniques to build the Editor at http://www.pushtotest.com/screencast_editor

    I believe Apple when it says it is motivated to deliver a great end user experience. I also like that Apple is actually monetizing the platform. Others that failed – remember all those speeches by Jonathan Schwartz of Sun about 300+ million handsets running Java? – lose this their way and become a poor platform for development.


  21. Of course there is a place for both web-apps and actual apps. I think James’ point is that if you are a small business then you get a lot more bang for the buck by building HTML5 web-apps. Build once – deploy anywhere. Right now Apple are the market leaders in smart mobile devices so it is tempting to build for iOS. However this is changing fast.

  22. There will always be economic opportunities for closed systems. Can you not think of even one reason? Or, were you simply talking about the client-side/user interface portion of our apps?

    Regardless of that, there is nothing new here. It’s well known that HTML is the lowest-common-denominator client platform and that there are some libraries that make it somewhat easier to work with as a platform. HTML is not a silver bullet though, and it will never be until it no longer resembles HTML and it supports more classical (and maintainable) development models and when multi-corporate committees are able to move more quickly (which is to say, never).

    Personally, I feel that people who back only open standards are being narrow minded. Like the religious fanatics that they remind me of, they deal in absolutes. Change is the law of the universe. There are very few constants. HTML as a platform may in 10 years catch up to what we have now with comparably closed, but much more powerful native platforms. But the native platforms will also be changing and HTML won’t be able to keep up until it becomes something different.

    How about a long bet? I’ll bet you four times. In 5, 10, 20 and 50 years there will still be software developers making huge piles of cash with closed source software that runs on closed source systems unless freedom of expression is outlawed or there is some sort of apocalyptic event.

    1. Well said Wayne. but i am talking the the widest economic opportunities – which are generally open systems. protectionism is not a good thing in macroeconomics, and its not a good thing in IT. i can recommend and cajole, and advocate open source all i like, but the reality, as a I clearly state, is that the best packager wins. packagers invariably bring proprietary elements into the mix- see Unix. but the apple situation isn’t just about open standards, its about arbitrary control, which is not a good thing. meanwhile i am a lot more positive about HTML than you, evidently. “classical and maintainable development models?” – please point me at one. in general the state of the art in app dev maintenance is dire. i have been involved in the mainframe market since I came into the business in 1995, and likely still will be when i retire. 20 years – i would be an idiot to bet against closed systems. But i have also seen the mainframe open up dramatically, with Unix Systems Services, standards-based Java apps, Linux support, and so on. Writing to standards is the best route to the broadest economic opportunities – that seems a truism. But if people choose to work in a profitable niche, of course that’s a choice.

      “Much more powerful native platforms” – do you just mean Apple or might you include, say Flash in there. You also talk about maintainability and so on. Well consider Selenium, the open source testing framework. Works great with Web apps, and its embedded in a ton of toolchains, because of its openness. Flash… not so much. Of course people can choose proprietary – but in your 20 year time frame would you really bet against the continued rise of open source and standards?

      Felix- build once, deploy everywhere for the win! 😉

      Frank – great pragmatic feedback. Stat! making money for developers is clearly a great thing. we’re developer advocates and of course we want you guys to get paid!

  23. I want to remind people that Steve Jobs originally wanted people to develop web apps for the iPhone. When people screamed they got into apps. Jobs pushed for web-based apps.

    1. yes i referred to that earlier in the thread. but things have changed haven’t they….

  24. James, I disagreed with your statement that “developers shouldn’t write to closed platforms if they are concerned with economic opportunities, no matter how slick the user experience”.

    I didn’t say there would be no economic opportunities if you’re working with open source and standards. It’s not a zero-sum game. You will always be able to make money (and lots of it) if you have a slick closed source solution. Simple as that.

    As for my feelings about working with HTML as a platform… I’ve been using .Net to do N-tier desktop/server apps for the past 6 years so maybe I have a different viewpoint than you. The apps we release are super maintainable, well documented and could only have been done well with HTML by tripling the effort.

    I’m not saying HTML doesn’t have it’s place, but don’t expect every developer to love it especially when they’re coming from platforms that are much more malleable.

    1. Wayne. thanks. You are absolutely right in some respects. I thought this take on it from @jzb aka Joe Brockmeier was interesting: “The mobile OS market is a redo of the early PC OS wars. Apple is playing Apple, Android is playing the part of Windows, Win7 phone is OS/2.” But note in this view of the world Windows was the more open platform. But I would also say one mans malleable is another’s brittle. A lot of people prefer browser-based apps because they find them a lot more “malleable” and easy to manage.

      Michael- hey guy how are you. That is a frigging beautiful story about Kapoor. “Fig” eh… 😉

  25. What is it the Buddhists say? Something like “many paths, one mountain…”

    When Mitch Kapor wrote Lotus 1-2-3, he originally wrote it in BASIC. At an early West Coast Computer Faire, I remember the hoots of derision from developer geeks in response to this disclosure. When asked why he used BASIC, Mitch said it was because it was the only language he knew well enough at the time.

    I promise everyone on this thread that for most users and likely all business users, the only things that matter are functionality and the user experience. I’ve said for years that if an application is sufficiently functional and easy to use, you could open the cabinet of the server running the app and Jimmy Hoffa could fall out, and most users wouldn’t give a fig.

    I think Apple understands this. I think a lot of HTML developers understand this, and many more are figuring it out quickly. And I think Adobe and Microsoft are at least starting to get it as well. If the back end of a particular app is open to integration and innovation, great. If it’s not but the app still delivers value, then it’s still going to be popular. And if it’s as open as anything but difficult to use, erratic in functionality or delivers questionable value, it will remain shelfware, or whatever the modern equivalent should be…

    Another great post, James — but you should sometimes tell us how you REALLY feel…

  26. […] – has to open up if it’s to become the massive business opportunity we hope it will be. Open standards make big markets; closed standards make big companies. We want the former. ®Matt Asay is senior vice president of […]

  27. […] is actually a web application. I myself wrote about why publishers are trying this approach in The iPad: Nice Piece of Glass! Here comes HTML5. But Mark focuses on the discoverability and app store issues raised by HTML5 apps. Which of course […]

  28. […] over at Red Monk (a great bunch of analysts I alternately seem to agree with and take issue with) posted a take on the mobile platform development continuum and HTML5 as an alternative. Take a read and the disagreement I voice below will have a better context.   I’m reposting […]

  29. “Apple…pitches its enterprise app store program [to]…‘develop proprietary, in-house iOS apps that you can distribute to employees or members of your organization.’

    [Hey Apple] The 1970s called and they want their proprietary models back.”

    Boy, did YOU nail it! I’ll go tell our developers that our inventory and pricing data should be available to all the world because proprietary is so old-fashioned.

    But if I get pushback, why should I say that a proprietary app with managed local data and disconnected functionality is a misfit for a proprietary function?

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