Gartner recently predicted that in the next few years the enterprise mobile workforce will more than double in size. Thus, development and support of mobile applications and policies around BYOD must come center stage in enterprise IT strategic planning. As IT feels the squeeze from both management and the growing mobile workforce they support, the previously unthinkable, enterprise IT adoption of consumer level apps over multiple mobile platforms, is the new reality.
For the immediate future, that reality appears to be HTML5-based web applications interacting with enterprise data and services platforms.
Write Once – Play Everywhere
Combined, HTML5 and CSS3 are the de facto standards in the mobile consumer space delivering rich multimedia. The long term promise of the HTML5 application paradigm is the ability to write apps once for a wide variety of OS and hardware platforms from desktops to small-screen, resource limited smartphones. For enterprise IT, the ability to deploy a single code base onto multiple mobile platforms reduces costs and headaches on multiple levels given that other enterprise-level concerns can be met, namely security and performance.
Offline Application Execution
A prominent weakness of web apps prior to HTML5 was the requirement for reliable, continuous and fast Internet access. The current HTML5 application cache alleviates this need somewhat by supporting offline execution of apps within the browser and providing local storage. There are still sharp limits, of course, but the ability for off-site employees to access their company’s data anywhere, anytime has taken a big leap forward with HTML5.
Current Limits of the HTML Stack
Unlike desktops or laptops where HTML5 has already flourished, mobile devices present unique challenges. Their abilities to take advantage of context awareness and offer an enhanced user experience are good examples.
Native mobile applications still have a significant advantage in this regard because of their ability for direct access to device capabilities:
• Performance enhancing hardware such as graphics
• Motion and location sensors such as GPS or device position and proximity
• Sensory input from cameras and microphones
• Screen touch events such as spread and pinch
• Wired and wireless peripheral connections
• Onboard security devices such as a fingerprint scanner
Many company technology experts, therefore, feel that HTML5 adoption cannot extend much beyond customer acquisition apps or those that simply present a rich multimedia interface on desktop monitors, tablets and smartphones simultaneously.
The Stack Expands
Hybrid Applications Span the Gap
In order to begin escaping the burden of developing, deploying and supporting standalone, enterprise applications across Android, iOS and Windows platforms, IT can begin by employing hybrid apps. This approach blends an HTML5 interface supported by native platform plug-ins or libraries. As overall software performance continues to improve, the demarcation between web and native will shift closer to the platform. Eventually, this implies less work at the hardware interface and more portability across existing and emerging compute platforms.
Maturing HTML5 Development Frameworks
An HTML5 framework is now the preferred way to deliver an entire mobile application by over half of web app developers. In other words, HTML5 is breaking free of the initial perception that it is a browser-bound technology. It now can be seen as the application core, which extends itself via native code. Witness the rise in high-level mobile app development environments such as SeattleCloud, uBuildApp and ShoutEm or more intricate offerings like PhoneGap.
Emerging from Adolescence
Starting with Internal Apps
This state of affairs suggests that IT resources are best deployed toward internal mobile applications that access an organization’s private or hybrid services and data cloud. As software vendors enhance integrated development frameworks, the move beyond internal-facing applications toward offering an SaaS model that mobile workers demand will be well within IT’s grasp.
Expect Close Coexistence of Native and HTML5-based Applications
It is expected that neither HTML5 nor native mobile applications will triumph as a clear winner over the other. Together, they will push beyond the traditional client model of user software into an increasing emphasis on network and distributed infrastructure for enterprise application delivery and execution.