In the battle of HTML5 v. Native Apps, Facebook has come out swinging for the former, which the Wall Street Journal, echoing an increasingly popular sentiment, suggests is the company's way of "angling to play a bigger role in the shaping the way software gets developed for mobile devices."
Facebook is encouraging the app developers who write for it to develop using HTML5, which it also uses for its own mobile app offerings. Additionally, TechCrunch reports that Facebook has a secret project in the works, codenamed Project Spartan, which relies on HTML 5 and Safari, the browser on Apple's iPhone and iPad. Which means it bypasses the Apple App Store — giving Facebook more freedom and denying Apple its 30 percent cut.
While a number of third parties offer Facebook apps for the iPad, Facebook doesn't yet officially offer one — though this is scheduled to change in the "coming weeks," according to a June 16 report in The New York Times' Bits blog.
TechCrunch, a day earlier, likewise reported that a mobile Safari–based Facebook app for the iPad was imminent.
"Facebook will never admit this, but those familiar with the project believe the intention is very clear: to use Apple’s own devices against them to break the stranglehold they have on mobile app distribution," wrote TechCrunch's MG Siegler. "With nearly 700 million users, Facebook is certainly in the position to challenge the almighty App Store distribution mechanism. But they need to be able to do so on Apple’s devices, which make up a key chunk of the market."
While the move could certainly sock-it to Apple, if such is Facebook's intent, it could also be a boon to those a little more in need of the cash: developers. The browser-based route would prevent developers from having to choose between developing for Android or Apple devices — or spending twice the resources to develop the same app for each.
"Facebook and all of our developers will choose both. You want to reach as many people in as many places as possible," Facebook CTO Bret Taylor told the Journal.
It would also speed up a few things. While developers currently have to submit changes to Apple, and wait for Apple to approve them, with an app written in HTML5, the change could be pushed out instantly.
HTML5, however, isn't the perfect vehicle for every app. Recent tests by EffectiveUI Software Architect Sean Christmann found HTML5 to beat the pants off of Flash when it came to mobile video, while Flash excelled at bitmap drawing and vector drawing, making it a better fit for gaming. (MDP: HTML5 Beats Flash in HD Video Test.)
HTML5 apps, reported the Journal, can look dated compared to those written for specific devices. The more complex an app, the greater the challenge to design in HTML5.
While Facebook and Apple spar over mobile market turf, Andrej Nabergoj, chief executive of app maker Outfit7, offered an important reminder.
"We have to care about what's in the best interest for the user," he told the Journal.