Mark Zuckerberg said today that Facebook had made a mistake by making HTML 5 apps instead of embracing real apps. He deserves a lot of credit for figuring it out, albeit a bit late, and changing course. It’s also a great sign for app development going forward in general.
HTML 5 “apps” are essentially just a web page stuffed inside an app. It requires very little development, you only have to crank it out once and it works on any platform, and it sounded good in theory. But like most shortcuts, the results weren’t pretty…
Facebook apps were primitive, limited, and perhaps worst of all, they were no better on more advanced platforms like the iPhone than they were on the worst of platforms like Android. Most other app developers have always made true apps for each platform, but as long as Facebook was cheating, it game some other developers an excuse to cheat too.
So what does this turnabout mean for you? Better Facebook apps, for starters. A new Facebook iPhone app came out last month, and while it still has a long way to go, it’s a night and day improvement over the previous version. On lesser platforms the difference won’t be as pronounced. But even bottom feeding platforms like Android should see some improvement. Even the worst of app development environments will have better results than merely stuffing a generic mobile web page inside an app…
Of course none of this changes the reason why Facebook apps are still missing basic features: Facebook’s only source of revenue is advertising, and that only works (for now) if you’re using facebook.com on a traditional computer. If you’re using a Facebook app, Facebook isn’t making a penny from you, which is why it wants to drive you back to your computer for tasks like sharing and even unfollowing a post. That may not change until Facebook can figure out how to derive revenue from app usage.
But even with the strategically missing features, Facebook’s embrace of native apps means that the quality of the app experience will zoom forward from here. It took Zuckerberg four years to figure out what Jobs had already told him. But give the guy credit for figuring out his mistake eventually – and admitting it today.
As for HTML 5, it’s a fantastic development tool – for web pages. It replaces ancient plugins like Flash and Shockwave which were never going to survive into the mobile era no matter how badly the luddite website developers out there wanted them to. But HTML 5 was never a valid strategy for apps. And now that the most notorious denier of that fact is on board with native app development, it should put that argument to bed for good.