Facebook recently launched new apps for both the iPhone and the iPad and while most people are singing its praises for being faster than the previous versions, a look under the hood shows real enhancements and might have further reaching repuercussions in the mobile space and on an argument that’s been raging for years now and shows no signs of slowing. Facebook’s old app was built in HTML5. You know, the browser-based markup language that’s supposed to render native apps…well, obsolete. But wait. Not so fast. (Literally).
Anyone who has ever used the old Facebook apps understand the complaint and experienced the lag first hand. The apps (both for iPhone and iPad) were slow to load…well, anything including news and especially photos. Facebook made the decision to rebuild the app from the ground up in Objective C. Now, the apps load faster and respond much quicker than they did before. What does this mean? It means that there are times when HTML5 simply won’t cut it. While HTML5 did allow Facebook to user one codebase to manage the entire mobile experience, it gave up control over the performance and speed of the app by doing so.
Facebook embraced HTML5 big time and even encouraged developers to do so when integrating with their platform. They touted the benefits of cross platform and cross device development and even created an HTML5 Development Resource center for developers interested in embracing the emerging technology.
As someone who has at least on conversation about the pros of HTML5 vs. native app development at least once a week, this is a great conversation starter. And while it won’t win the argument entirely for purists, it does put a positive check mark in the column of native app development for those who prefer it over the ‘build once deploy everywhere’ crowd.
Often, clients are drawn to cross-platform development for purely financial reasons. But as Facebook has shown, while it might solve basic accessibility issues, some and arguably most users will desire an experience that is native to his or her device. No doubt, Apple is pleased that Facebook made the switch and integrated fully with iOS. But, does this mean a native Android app for Facebook is around the corner? I’m sure Android users are hoping so. Personally, I believe this is a step in the right direction. The debate, however will rage on.
And Facebook has larger mobile issues to address. With 543 million users accessing the site via mobile, the company needs to understand now to market to this growing demographic. How will the social networking giant address all of their needs and monetize the site for the growing mobile market? Having already stated that mobile will be a priority for the company, analysts are waiting to see what other steps the company will take. This is clearly the first of many. But, its a step in the right direction.