The hybrid approach for apps: HTML5 in native apps

Should we insist on using standards? I think the question is more a rhetorical one, as the answer most people will give is Yes.

Look at any industry or development moving forward. Only when a standards was introduced, that’s when the break-through from niche markets or early adopter usage happened. PostScript and PDF are good examples in the Print industry, VHS in the video industry, USB in the peripheral market, MP3 in the digital music industry, HTML for the web as we know it, XML in data exchange and so on. There are many more examples.

Why use a standard for Digital Publishing?

Despite it being almost three years old (tablet publishing that is), there is still no widely used standard for Digital Publications.

You can find a lot of proprietary file formats used within native apps. Sure, some of these file formats are wide spread, however they remain closed, are only accessible to one vendor and the future direction is within one hand.

What if in a few years you want to (or even worse: have to) change technology provider for Digital Publishing? If the file format is closed and owned by one vendor, you (your previous publications that is) are locked-in:

  • Either you stay with your past publications on that platform, confusing your reader and paying double.
  • Or you migrate all your previous media to the new format, spending a lot of time for migration.
  • Or you just throw everything over board that you have created before, loosing customers and wasting money already spent.

Not really great alternatives. So the need for using a standard format today is obvious.

The need for a standard is clear. But which one?

You can see developments in the industry that more and more publishers, professional and corporate, are looking at switching to a standard.

And for Digital Publishing, HTML5 seems to be the only choice for a standard. It’s the format the digital publishing community and the web community is putting all their efforts in. It is backed by the large technology companies like Apple and Google. And it is really open, you can use a text editor to create it.

For the future HTML5 enables you to use the same content on all devices like Desktop browser, tablets and smartphones and eBook readers. Even better, ou can use it even in multiple delivery formats on the same device, either within a native app or standalone (e.g. in a Web Apps like Financial Times,  New York Times, DER SPIEGEL and others are doing). And ePub3 (an eBook standard) is based on HTML5. And the web will be too.

However for tablets there are still reasons to use native apps. I wrote about it in January (see here: http://www.planetquark.com/2012/01/01/alternative-options-for-digital-publishing/).

If you see the benefits of using native apps and still want to use HTML5, what’s the best way out of this dilemma?

The hybrid approach

The best way to take advantage of both, native app and HTML5, is to use a hybrid approach of using a standard like HTML5 within a native app:
Of course for that all your content should be HTML5, and not only some animations or some widgets. 100% of it, pure HTML5. And wrap in an app.

Your advantages are clear:

  • Using HTML5 for content you can easily swap technology providers should you need to do this.
  • Using HTML5 for content you can easily use the same content with web apps or Desktop browsers, should you see the need for that in the future.
  • Using HTML5 also gives you immediate advantages, namely the smaller file size for your digital publications:
    -> Less download time for your customers
    -> Less storage space needed on the tablets of your customers
  • Using HTML5 also gives you another immediate advantage: All the benefits of HTML, which is native to most tablets:
    -> Accessibility
    -> Searchability
    -> Selectability
    -> etc.
  • Using a native app as a wrapper you still get the platform benefits (Newsstand, Subscriptions, Notifications, access to Camera, App Store listing etc.)

And last but not least:
You will benefit from all the developments still to come, the community is enhancing HTML5 as we speak.
This allows you, the publisher, and us, the readers, to determine where the future of Digital Publishing shall be.

Next steps

To test this yourself, you can either use a framework to code it yourself. iWebKit, Sencha Touch, jQuery UI and jQuery mobile are great examples for that.

Or you use a standard design package like App Studio to design pixel-perfect HTML5 layouts and interactivity in HTML5 using InDesign or QuarkXPress.