How Soon Is Now For The Mobile Web?

This may be the year when the mobile web apps finally go mainstream. Or, at least, their hybrid cousins will.

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Not because the technology will finally be ready. For most apps, it already is. Rather, the web will finally hit the big time with mobile apps precisely because we’ll talk about it less and use it more.

Time for HTML5
Oh, sure, there are good reasons for the mobile web to finally hit its stride. Sencha’s Nick Harlow offers five:

  1. High quality WebViews are now available on most platforms (and getting dramatically better thanks to Apple’s new WKWebView in iOS 8). While low-quality WebViews persist within the Android device base, on balance things are looking up;
  2. Broad platform support is only economically feasible using web tech;
  3. Web tech bridges the desktop-mobile divide;
  4. Using web tech helps to simplify application management and security; and
  5. Device fragmentation is accelerating. The web helps developers keep up

But before we herald the future of hybrid, it’s worth pointing out that some believe that future is already here. As EmberJS co-creator Tom Dale tells me, “”The dirty little secret of native [app] development is that huge swaths of the UIs we interact with every day are powered by web technologies under the hood.”

While Dale may be getting ahead of himself – [tweetable]the reality is that the web still has a long way to go to achieve mass-market app adoption[/tweetable], and maybe constitutes 10% of apps within the app stores – the trends do point toward more hybrid apps, especially among the enterprise set. VisionMobile’s own survey data shows that today 30% of developers are using some kind of cross-platform tool, of which 60% are using PhoneGap.

This is great, but it doesn’t obviate the need for the mobile web to get better to erase complaints about performance. And it will.

Getting better all the time
Summarizing the Google Chrome Developer Summit, Divshot CEO Michael Bleigh says, “Google is doing everything it can to get mobile web to 60fps, which gives you about 16ms per frame to do everything you need to do. It’s hard to even enumerate all the different ways they’re working on this.” Speed will bolster web app performance, perhaps eliminating the “jank” that many associate with web apps.

But it’s not just about accelerating the mobile web.

We also need to rethink how we approach mobile web apps, as Ionic (based on Google’s AngularJS) and React Native (from Facebook) do. While the latter is not “web technology,” strictly speaking, these frameworks are actively advancing the state of the art for web apps.

The result, as Mozilla (and longtime native app) developer James Long puts it, is impressive:

It only takes a few minutes playing with React Native to realize the potential it has. This works. It feels like I’m developing for the web. But I’m writing a real native app, and you seriously can’t tell the difference. At the UI level, there is no difference; these are all native UIViews beautifully sliding around like normal.

Indistinguishable from native performance… but with a far more accessible development platform. That’s powerful.

A question of competence
But let’s be clear: [tweetable]if your development team isn’t any good, it really doesn’t matter which development platform they choose[/tweetable]. A bad iOS programmer is going to lose every time to a good HTML5/web programmer, and vice versa.

Indeed, one of the primary problems with the web is that it so dramatically lowers the bar to development that virtually anyone with Javascript and CSS skills can build a mobile app.

A lame one, that is.

Mobile developer Nic Raboy nails this:

All my applications, native and hybrid, have mostly positive reviews and if you visit the apps on Google Play, you’ll see no reviews include mention about how the application was crafted. This is an important thing to notice because many haters will attack developers on the idea that hybrid applications do not perform or look as good as native applications. This is simply not true. Native or hybrid, if the developer or designer is no good, the application will suffer regardless.

So as fantastic as advancements like AngularJS and ReactJS will be for web app development, they’re not going to be enough if developers underinvest in learning them. There are already exceptional hybrid apps like Instagram that demonstrate what strong developers can do with the web. We just need more of them.

Or maybe what we need is better tools.

That’s one primary takeaway from VisionMobile’s “How Can HTML5 Compete With Native?” report. As report author Dimitris Michalakos concludes, “The question is no longer *whether* HTML5 can produce quality apps, but *how* easy it is to create quality web apps.” Given that “HTML5 is like driving a car without a dashboard,” the key is to deliver better dashboards, or tools, to make it easier to build great web apps.

This involves significant improvements to the debugging, profiling, and memory management tools available, but it’s also something the web frameworks can help with.

As such, it increasingly looks like a question of WHEN, not IF, mobile web apps will take off.

And the answer to that question is either “now”, if you’re paying attention to how developers actually build apps today, or soon, if you’re waiting for them to start talking about the fact that they’re building with the web.

Developer Economics: Ecosystem wars drawing to a close

Welcome to the brand new Developer Economics report! Now in its fourth year and 6th edition, the latest Developer Economics survey reached over 7,000+ developers across 127 countries, setting new standards in developer research.

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Get your free copy here and read about the movers and shakers in the app economy. Dive deep into our rich dataset and discover how developers select and prioritise platforms, which developer tools they use and how their choices translate to revenues.

As always, we have a lot more data available so get in touch (moredata@visionmobile.com) to get the data you need if you can’t find it in the report. Continue reading Developer Economics: Ecosystem wars drawing to a close

Top 5 VisionMobile articles for 2013

With 2013 drawing to a close, we’d like to present you with the top articles from our blog for this past year – and wish you a happy and productive 2014! So, without further ado, here are the top 5 VisionMobile articles for 2013 – enjoy!

5. Developer Economics: App market forecasts 2013-2016

by Andreas Pappas
web_Forecasts (2)
The global app economy was worth $ 53Bn in 2012, and expected to rise to $ 143Bn in 2016. As part of our new Developer Economics: App Economy Forecasts 2013-2016 report, Senior Analyst, Andreas Pappas, examines developer population, platforms, revenues, and revenue models and shows how app store sales are just a small part of the app economy. Read the full article. Continue reading Top 5 VisionMobile articles for 2013

How do developers prioritise platforms? iOS vs Android vs HTML5

How do developers perceive different platforms and how is their platform choice affected by the type of apps they developed or the way they define success? Andreas Pappas looks into the data from VisionMobile’s Developer Economics survey in Q3 2013 to shed some light on these questions.

Print

Not long ago, the choice of a mobile platform, i.e. which mobile platform to support was a key question for developers. That question has more or less been addressed now: iOS and Android accounted for 94% of smartphone sales in Q3 2013 and there is little doubt that they will continue to dominate the market in the years to come. For organisations that require massive scale, combined with all the perks of a mobile ecosystem (monetisation, distribution, platform services), iOS and Android are the platforms of choice with a combined Mobile Developer Mindshare of over 85% based on the last Developer Economics survey in Q3 2013. Continue reading How do developers prioritise platforms? iOS vs Android vs HTML5

HTML5 performance is fine, what we are missing is tools

HTML5 is perceived as a lower quality platform, mainly because of performance. This comes both as a result of survey data, as well as developer interviews. Yet, industry experts claim the problem is lack of tools. So what is the HTML5 really missing, performance or tools? VisionMobile’s Web Technology Lead, and author of our acclaimed “Can HTML5 compete with native?” research report, debates the performance vs. tools issue.

HTML5-report

In April 2013 VisionMobile asked mobile app developers what stops them from using HTML5. 46% answered “Performance issues”, followed by 37% who said “Lack of APIs” (sample size: 1,518 developers).

WHAT STOPS MOBILE DEVELOPERS FROM USING HTML5?

We spoke to developers about their views on HTML5 performance. Apostolos Papadopoulos, author of 4sqwifi, a highly acclaimed public WiFi password app, noted “Quality and user experience is top priority for us. Therefore, we prefer going with a Native API”. It’s a common practice for developers to go native for better performance and user experience. But user experience, meaning following the behavioural conventions of the native platform, is a different story and HTML5 can’t help much. Developers can try to imitate but for a truly native UX they have to use Native SDKs; unless we are talking of Firefox OS or the long-awaited Tizen. Continue reading HTML5 performance is fine, what we are missing is tools

Developer Mindshare Q2 2013: Is HTML5 the 3rd horse in the race?

[We’ve just completed the largest developer survey to date and the results are starting to come in. Marketing Manager, Matos Kapetanakis, discusses some early insights, focusing on platform mindshare and the role of HTML5]

UPDATE: The full report is now available for [vm_form_download link_text=’free download’ product_id=’4062′]

Developer Economics 5th edition - survey

Biggest developer survey

We’re thrilled to announce that the Q2 Developer Economics survey we conducted throughout April was the most successful to date, zooming past the 6,000 respondents mark, making it the biggest developer survey globally.

We broke through the 6,000 developer mark mainly thanks to the help of our 48 Marketing and Regional partners. Together we reached developers from an unprecedented 115 countries, from mature markets, like the US and Western Europe, to emerging markets, like Brazil, Russia, India and China. To reach developers on a global scale, we translated the survey in 10 languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish), aided by our local partners, who helped us reach the local dev communities. Thanks to a partnership with Mobile Monday, we also promoted through over 20 local MoMo chapters in Asia and Oceania.

And for those of you who took our survey and are eagerly awaiting the results of the prize draw – here are the winners!

1. One new iPhone 5 (won by @Adrianod1993)
2. Two Samsung Galaxy SIII (won by @devitry & @Sourav_Lahoti)
3. Two Nokia Lumia 920 (won by John P and Serge J)
4. Two BlackBerry Z10 (won by Shaun D and @99CentsApps)

Exclusive prizes for respondents who also subscribed to our developer panel:
1. One AR Drone 2.0 (value USD 300 – won by @to_pe)
2. One Nest Learning Thermostat (value USD 250 – won by Frank D)
3. One Nike Fuel Band (value USD 150 – won by Branko N) Continue reading Developer Mindshare Q2 2013: Is HTML5 the 3rd horse in the race?

Discovery kills distribution: why the web needs a new leader

[Apple and Google have locked app discovery and distribution within their app stores. VisionMobile’s Andreas Constantinou explains how Facebook is using the web to disintermediate Apple/Google and why the web needs a new leader].

Discovery kills distribution: The real impact of the web highway

The platform duopoly.

In just the space of 3 years, the mobile platforms landscape has changed from an election race to an oligarchy. The network effects at the heart of the Apple and Google business models have created formidable barriers to entry. The growth in device shipments and apps created seems to continue a relentless climb, showing no signs of developer fatigue or consumer segment saturation as we discussed in our earlier analysis. Beyond the duopolists, competitors have been forced to jump from their burning platform into a chasm of uncertainty or to give up altogether.

The Apple/Google duopolists are now behaving like proper autocrats. Apple is imposing a 30% revenue share on all in-app payments. Google is keeping Android Market and Motorola patents for the exclusive use of its protégées.

The duopolists have been able to run such a tight game by locking together four elements: development, discovery, distribution and monetisation. That is, you can only discover, download and pay for Apple apps through the App Store. Plus development happens through Apple tools only. Google is equally fanatic in controlling development, discovery, distribution and monetization, but is more open to affiliates – for example it allows Sony Ercisson and Vodafone to run their own branded shop within Android Market.

The results are measurable: Over 65% of Apple and Android users discover games via the native app stores, according to Nielsen.

Web discovery kills distribution

With the duopolists amassing so much control, other industry players are getting uneasy. Amazon is creating its own Android tablets and own app store to circumvent Google’s control points. Facebook has shed its Flash dependency and is working on project Spartan – believed to be an app store for HTML-based mobile web apps – that will circumvent Apple/Google app stores.

In the mobile world app distribution is locked to the platform, discovery is still a bottleneck due to the abundance of 100,000s of apps. Developers and media brands alike will pay dearly whoever can put their app in front of the right consumers and help that app get “discovered”. This is similar to the desktop web where distribution is commodity, but discovery is still king due to information abundance, which is what makes search such a lucrative business.

This is where HTML and the web come in.

HTML implies browser-based access and browsers are the only de-facto installed runtime on all handsets that is not bound to any proprietary ecosystem.

HTML and browsers are being used to bypass distribution silos. As such, HTML is being promoted not as a platform (i.e. apps), and neither as a technology (i.e. APIs), as we argued in our recent report. HTML is being promoted as a business model.

Facebook is using the web (in effect browsers) to help users discover Facebook apps and bypass proprietary Apple/Google distribution silos. Facebook is using discovery to kill distribution.

Web purists will argue that the mobile web will always stay open. But we know this is not the case on the web where social networks (Facebook, Twitter) have built silo’d mega-portals which you can only access through carefully crafted, ajar APIs.

Similarly, you can expect Facebook to restrict access to mobile Facebook apps to its own mobile web store, much like how Google can eventually restrict Chrome apps to be only discoverable through the Chrome web store.

And here you have it: web will be the new closed. Back to square one.

Mobile Web as the 4th horse

There are many benefactors or sponsors of the mobile web evolution and they are all in to help drive their core business. Facebook is expected to use the mobile web as a development, discovery and distribution platform. Qualcomm is pushing the web to drive browser sophistication and help sell more smartphone chipsets with web-acceleration smarts. Apple is pushing the web because it wants to have the most “street-compliant” web browser. Google is pushing the boundaries of browser sophistication so that it can auction smarter, more lucrative ad formats across more eyeballs. Facebook and Google are leading web discovery through social discovery and mobile search. Telcos are hoping their own web-based app stores will compel users to switch away from Apple/Google lock-in to a buy-once-use-everywhere app concept.

But there’s a paradox here: the mobile web platform has many benefactors but no leader. Everyone is promoting the mobile web as a business model, i.e. to indirectly drive their core business or benefit from free PR and implicit goodwill. But no one is promoting the web as a platform. The mobile web as a platform has no leader, no general to command the troops, no governor to set the rules. It’s a headless platform.

This presents an unprecedented opportunity for the next challenger to the Apple/Google duopoly. We believe that the next player with complete metal-to-cloud consumer ambitions will use the mobile web as a platform.

Such a choice has many benefits; firstly a mobile web platform offers access to “virgin” segments of web developers who are new to mobile; secondly it comes will many billions of dollars of free developer marketing – already in our measurements of developer mindshare (see our Developer Economics 2011 report), the mobile web comes 3rd after Android, iOS platforms; thirdly, it is a kind of patent haven since web technologies are in the public domain and not behind corporate legal walls; and finally because it allows content providers and brands to get on board from day one with their legacy web content.

The mobile web is waiting for a new leader.

– Andreas
You should follow me on Twitter

Platform X: How cross-platform tools can end the OS wars

[Are cross-platform tools a better solution than HTML5 to the challenges of platform fragmentation? Guest author Jonas Lind reviews the landscape of cross-platform tools and argues that such tools may become as important as the native platforms themselves.]

VisionMobile blog: How cross-platform tools can end the platform wars

The Android vs. iOS vs. Windows Phone platform battle has been the talk of the industry for the last year. But the market share battle between handset platforms might not be as critical for the industry as many believe.

A popular view in the industry is that the market is inevitably moving towards an Apple-Google duopoly. Apple’s app store has more than 400,000 apps. Android is growing quickly from a base of more than 250,000 apps and is predicted to catch up with Apple later this year. Nearly 80 percent of all apps in app stores are controlled by these two market giants according to Distimo. Figures for Q1 2011 from Gartner show that the market share in the smartphone market for iOS and Android combined is 53 percent and rising.

But the duopoly may be challenged by the mobile web and cross-platform tools. HTML5 empowers all other platforms to offer apps through the browser. VisionMobile’s recent Developer Economics report shows that the mobile web (of which HTML5 is a subset) is already the third most popular platform in terms of developer mindshare after Android and iOS.

At the same time, HTML5 is overhyped and the belief that HTML5 will replace almost all native apps is in need of a reality check. Native apps will still offer richer functionality, better performance, and higher security compared to HTML5-based apps. A study by quirksmode.org has shown that every mobile WebKit implementation is slightly different, which could cause a problem for HTML5-based apps. In a recent whitepaper, Netbiscuits measured smartphone support for 18 features in HTML5 and showed that leading smartphones only offer partial (or no) support for a significant number of these features. Implementation is also fragmented. What works on iPhone will probably not work on RIM or Samsung handsets and vice versa. Or to quote Forrester’s take on the HTML5 vs. native debate: “The ‘Apps vs. Internet’ Debate Will Continue…to be irrelevant.”, “it’s not a question of ‘either/or’ when it comes to a choice between apps vs. the mobile Web, but both.”

The Landscape Of Cross-Platform Development Tools

The new types of cross-platform tools are more interesting than plain HTML5 because they can deliver higher performance and functionality than browser based HTML5. These tools produce apps as output and fall roughly into two categories:

1) Web apps/hybrid apps. These apps exploit the web engine (“web browser”) and are typically written in HTML/CSS/JavaScript.

2) Native apps. These apps are compiled into machine code and often written in C++ or similar languages.

Cross-platform tools are a nascent market with a flurry of startup activity over the last few years. The following diagram illustrates different trade-offs between complexity and performance in the cross-platform tools market.

VisionMobile - Cross-platform tools

Traditional websites: In the lower left corner is the traditional website, limited in performance but providing access to all platforms with no added complexity. Plain HTML5 could be included here once all browsers support the standard.

Web apps/hybrid apps: Adjacent in the diagram are HTML5 web apps that can be downloaded to the browser’s cache and run offline. They will offer better performance and only slightly higher complexity. One step up in the diagram is a market segment of cross-platform tools running simulated native. These tools deliver better performance but the complexity is also higher if the tool has to support multiple platforms. Here we find tools that produce web apps built on HTML5/CCS3 and JavaScript, with some added native elements, typically inside a native wrapper. These cross-platform tools often add native extensions that provide access to some low level native functionality. An example of a player in this market segment is PhoneGap, which is often used in tandem with the Sencha Touch framework. Other tools that run on top of PhoneGap are WorkLight and appMobi.

A closely related market segment is hybrid tools, where the HTML5/JavaScript input is translated into actual native source code. An example of a hybrid tool vendor is Appcelerator‘sTitanium.

Other types of solutions which fall under the main heading of web/hybrid apps are based on Java, Lua, ActionScript or less common languages. The diagram shows how the heavily-fragmented Java ME offers inferior performance in spite of high complexity. The cross-platform tools Corona SDK and DragonRAD are based on Lua. Rhodes is based on HTML/Ruby while OpenPlug uses ActionScript (Flash) as source language. Kony uses drag-n-drop for building enterprise web apps. There is no reliable information about the performance/complexity trade-off for most of these solutions, so their exact position in the diagram above should be viewed as illustrative. In general, tools in which the resulting code is compiled or recompiled to native ARM machine code will have a higher performance.

Native apps: The second main category is native apps. In cross-platform tools for native apps, developers often work with a codebase in C/C++ or C# which is then semi-automatically ported to the target platform and device. Performance is significantly higher with native code, but so is the complexity. Players in this sector include Airplay, Qt and MoSync. The Airplay SDK (now Marmalade) originates in 3D gaming but can also be used as a general C++ cross-platform tool. Qt is a cross-platform UI framework that also can be used for native C++ porting. Qt primarily supports Nokia’s legacy platforms. MoSync is a cross-platform tool for general purpose C++ development, integrated with the Eclipse IDE and also available under an open source (GPL) license.

Cross-Platform Beyond Java – Native Extensions

The traditional approach to cross-platform development has been a lowest common denominator one – much like that taken by Java, Flash Lite and mobile HTML. This approach sacrifices performance, UI pizzazz and access to specific device features.

A workaround is to add native extensions. These can provide additional SDK/NDK libraries for the IDE and also give access to low level hardware functionality. Access to low-level hardware functionality can be managed by a device database that controls which conditional code will be executed on a given device.

Several of the cross-platform vendors have built such device databases with various levels of detail. A device database contains information on screen size, input modality and exact OS version, extending to detailed hardware configurations and known bugs with workarounds.

Using native extensions, it is possible to overcome the inherent limitations that plagued Java. Instead of “write once, run everywhere”, developers can spend 90 percent of their time developing a common codebase and 10 percent adding native tweaks and extensions for each platform and device. For software purists, the 90/10 solution might not seem very elegant, but it is a way forward that can handle the incredible complexity with thousands of devices running more than five OS platforms. In this way, app developers can manage one codebase and port it to target devices without losing functionality. In principle, using a (C++) cross-platform engine with extensions should be able to offer similar functionality with minimal performance penalty as compared to direct development for the target device. There will be significant economies of scale when the common codebase is tweaked for 100s of devices.

The Disruptive Potential Of Cross-Platform

There are few signs that platform fragmentation will disappear. It’s not just Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7, which are backed by corporate giants with deep pockets, but also smaller players like QNX (RIM), WebOS (HP), MeeGo (Intel, China Mobile) and Bada (Samsung). Add to that legacy platforms, which will be around for at least a few years: Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS, Symbian, BREW, Java ME and Flash. If we also include the main desktop platforms (Windows, Mac OS, Ubuntu), gaming consoles, set-top boxes, cars, and other gadgets, the number of platforms becomes unmanageable.

App developers whose clients need to reach the entire market, face the formidable task of supporting all platforms and devices. If they can use a cross-platform engine the productivity gains will be dramatic compared to paying for separate in-house dev teams for each platform.

Early adopters of cross-platform will most likely be large consumer businesses who need to target the mass market such as media companies, games houses, entertainment companies, banks, and any brand developing B2C apps. Similarly, government agencies are often required to provide non-discriminatory access to their services and cross-platform tools will enable them to do just that. Another group of early adopters of cross-platform tools is CIOs of larger corporations. They face increasing demand from senior staff who want to use their favorite smartphone for secure access of internal company data. Once these early adopters have driven down the prices and sorted out stability issues we should expect to see a fast uptake of cross-platform tools in the mainstream app development market.

Assuming more developers move to cross-platform tools, the power distribution in the mobile sector will be challenged. The difference in the number of available apps between dominant and up-n-coming platforms will be reduced. This will allow smaller platforms to compete on a level playing field.

Web apps and HTML5 should make the largest dent in the market power of traditional platforms. But the final nail in the coffin will come when C++ cross-platform engines can offer almost the same performance and functionality as coding directly on the target platform. This is possible if the cross-platform engines can fully integrate native platform and device extensions. In that case, developers of native apps might reconsider Android, iOS and WP7 and choose to code to a cross-platform IDE, not to the platform. In this scenario, the cross-platform IDEs would become players of equal or even greater importance than the native platforms. At the very least, today’s OS platform wars will move to a totally different level.

Jonas Lind

[Jonas Lind has been working in the TMT sector since the late 1990s. Among other things, he has worked as an industry analyst for TeliaSonera HQ, with trend forecasting and scenarios in a project commissioned by Ericsson Research, as a strategy consultant during the dot com bubble and with femtocell concept development. He runs the blog Mobileforsight and is currently a strategy analyst at the seed stage VC fund STING Capital.]

[Report] HTML5 and what it means for the mobile industry

[HTML5 has been tipped to be a game-changer, with some predictiving it will take over most mobile platforms. But what is its real impact to the mobile industry? VisionMobile Research Director Andreas Constantinou evaluates HTML5 vs apps and what it means for the mobile industry as part of our newly released report – free copy here]

VisionMobile- HTML5 and what it means for the mobile industry

Background: Web vs. apps

In today’s world of apps, the web seems to have taken a seat in the back row. But many industry observers are predicting a comeback with HTML5 advancements, the proliferation of smartphones and ubiquitous backing by both telcos and Internet players. Is the web as we know it about to change?

First things first: what is the web?

Firstly, the web is a language for creating interactive, navigable content, which consists of three main parts: HTML (the language used to define the static text and images), CSS (the language defining styling and presentational elements) and JavaScript (the language describing the interactions and animations).

Secondly, the web is a paradigm for open, unfettered access to content that is not controlled by any single entity. In the era where apps distribution is controlled by single vendors like Apple and Google, the web seems to challenge the status quo.

There are many ways in which web pages differ from mobile apps today, as shown in the next table.

Differences between apps and web

From web 1.0 to the mobile web

The web has gone through two major phases: Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.

Web 1.0 was the era of the dumb terminals and static web pages. The first generation of the web assumed all intelligence was in the network; the device had to issue a simple request to fetch a page and then present it on the screen.

Web 2.0 was is the era of smarter terminals and interactive pages. This second generation was designed around the ‘read-write web’ where the user is not just a consumer but also an editor, curator and producer of content. Web 2.0 helped create today’s phenomena of Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and nano-publishing.

Despite starting off as an outsider to the web, the mobile industry has been rapidly catching up since the early WAP days. WebKit, the Apple-born browser engine is now the common ‘circuitry’ behind more than 500 million devices shipped to Q1 2011, by all major smartphone vendors. Opera, the mobile browser vendor, counts over 100 million monthly active users on its Mobile and Mini browsers.

In the manufacturer camp, smartphones are expected to reach well into sub-$100 retail price points in 2011. In the operator camp, content delivery optimization solutions from the likes of ByteMobile, Openwave, and Ortiva Wireless are being deployed across tier-1 operators, facilitating efficient use of the network while browsing the web.

Mobile industry initiatives such as the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) are pushing the envelope for web applications (also known as widgets) while EU-funded initiatives like webinos aim to use the web as a medium for deploying applications across mobile, PC, TV and automotive screens.

HTML5 as a technology change

The hype surrounding HTML5 has peaked in 2011. HTML5 promises to push the capabilities of web applications to the point of making web apps as engaging as Flash applications and as integrated with the device as mobile applications. HTML5 introduces several technology improvements in these domains by adding off-line storage, 2D graphics capabilities, video/audio streaming, geo-location, access to the phone’s camera and sensors, as well as user interface tools.

This next generation of web languages in the form of HTML5 is being standardized by the W3C and the WHAT working group who are driving forward web apps as equal citizens to mobile applications. The W3C consists of 51 member organizations, over 440 participants with strong backing from Google, Apple, Opera, IBM, Microsoft, and Mozilla. In parallel the WHAT working group is working closely with Mozilla, Opera and WebKit who are implementing and testing the latest browser features.

Yet HTML5 is still work in progress and even standards bodies show fragmented approaches to HTML5 completion. The W3C expects official completion of the HTML5 set of standards in 2014. In parallel, WHAT has taken a different approach to completion and is now working on ‘HTML’ as a continually evolving set of specifications.

Despite the adoption of the WebKit engine as a de-facto standard, HTML5 implementation on mobile devices is both fragmented and incomplete.

Independent studies by quirksmode.org and NetBiscuits have shown that every mobile WebKit implementation is slightly different. In addition, the leading smartphone platforms show inadequate HTML5 support; iOS, BlackBerry OS and Android devices show partial HTML5 support (at best 2 our of 3 HTML5 features supported), while Symbian and Windows Phone devices are lagging further behind.

Much like history has shown with the PC browser wars of the 1990’s and the Java ME fragmentation of the 2000’s, mobile browser fragmentation in 2010’s will be driven by the need to differentiate (’embrace and extend’), and the varying speeds among vendors in implementing the latest WebKit engine.

What about HTML5 app stores? Already a number of start-ups such as OpenAppMkt, Openspace and Zeewe have proposed app stores focused on web apps. The key advantages of HTML5 app stores are cross-device portability and a buy-once-use- everywhere application model.

Unfortunately, supply does not always imply demand; HTML5 app stores can’t deliver a business model change if demand is not there, for three reasons. Firstly, users care about availability of popular content (see Angry Birds, Skype and Facebook) most of which are not available as web apps often due to HTML technology limitations. Secondly, users care about choosing among hundreds of thousands of apps, which is currently a 2-horse race (Apple and Google) with the web lagging far behind in terms of number of apps. Thirdly, users are becoming loyal to their smartphone platform (Android, iOS or BlackBerry) where the native app store dominates.

How to compete in a software world

HTML5 introduces several technology innovations. However HTML5 remains a technology change that is not designed to solve discovery, distribution or monetisation problems – in other words it is not designed to change the business model.

What *will* be changing the business model of the web are the innovations introduced in the apps economy – where content is created with semantic tagging (description, category, user ratings, etc), discovered via web stores (much like app stores), distributed within walled gardens (much like Facebook), and monetised through micro-payments (much like apps). We call this web 3.0 – and we expand on its implications in the full research paper.

The question is: how can the mobile industry leverage on the web, and the native platforms that dominate the apps world?  The trick here is not to compete, but to leverage on the network effects of the Apple, Google and Microsoft platforms where handset OEMs or network operators can position themselves as a new generation of over-the-top players.

For example, operators can act as the matchmakers between developers and end-users by helping developers get the right apps in front of the right users through techniques such as featured placements, social- graph-based recommendations and segment targeting. Similarly, handset OEMs can act as on-device retailers, connecting the developers to the right audience, in the right region, through white space across the handset real-estate.

This is also where we believe WAC has the best chances of success but helping operators reposition as over-the-top players on top of the Android and Apple app stores – that is by helping developers reach out to users with ubiquitous billing, quality assurance, content curation, local content deals, privacy and security assurance, and help extend app stores away from the virtual and into the physical retail space.

In parallel, network operators and handset OEMs can help push the web into a viable alternative for native platforms in many ways. They can push the development of WebKit towards better bandwidth management, and closer integration with hardware multimedia acceleration. Moreover, the mobile industry can sponsor the development of better cross-platform developer tools that allow HTML and JavaScript developers to target multiple native platforms and mass-market browsers.

No matter how telecoms players decide to compete in the software world, they need to adopt ‘agile’ development methods and move at software speeds to catch-up the platform players in controlling the last mile to the consumer.

One thing is certain; the future of connected web and devices is going to surprise us – much like how applications turned telecoms economics upside down. Like Bill Gates once famously said “we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten”.

Web is going to be a game changer, but not in the way we expect it.

Read our full report for more.

– Andreas
you should follow me on Twitter: @andreascon