Not many companies can generate as much media attention with an app update as Facebook did yesterday, when they blogged about their from-scratch rewrite of the Facebook application for iOS. There is a good reason for this attention though, and it has to do with a crucial debate that has existed since the dawn of the iPhone app ecosystem, nearly five years ago.
Steve Jobs’ first foray into a third party app ecosystem for the iPhone was all about HTML5 apps. Quickly, he realized that mobile apps need to prioritize the speed and the polish of the user experience above everything else, and the native AppStore was born. There is a reason that Facebook’s application was both the most popular iPhone app as well as the most reviled. HTML5 is great for developers, because it allows for the client to be constantly updated, but the technology is too immature to provide the polished, high quality and fast user experience that users enjoy from their native apps.
I’m glad that Facebook decided to write such a thoughtful piece on the challenges of rewriting their app to be a native one. One of the most frequent questions that I have gotten asked on panels, in conversations, etc. is the “age old mobile debate” of HTML5 vs Native App. It has been a commonly held view that eventually HTML5 will “get there,” and the ease of updating client software from the server side would eventually triumph over the inherent difficulty of building native software. While HTML5 may eventually subsume larger and larger pieces of mobile functionality, the truth is that mobile will ultimately resemble desktop: users operate a combination of native applications and websites. The choice between the two is a false one.
At MoPub, we’ve always been focused on the mobile app experience and making it as great as possible. It’s more difficult – and the Facebook post explains really well why that’s true – but at the end of the day, that is where the opportunity lies. We have never shied away from tough problems like this and this is one of the reasons why our platform has achieved so much traction with mobile app publishers across Android and iOS alike. -Jim