Delivering Better Mobile App Performance with HTML5
September 23, 2013

Gabriel Lowy

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Banks, investment firms and insurance companies are struggling to meet demand for mobile applications by both consumers and employees, particularly in organizations that have implemented BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs. With the explosion in the number of data points firms are analyzing, coupled with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, more enterprises need to implement a cross-platform development strategy for better mobile app performance with HTML5.

Most of the new development is being driven by a focus on rich user experience assurance enabled by new platforms. As more users interact with their institutions via mobile devices, robust application performance is critical amid intense competition. Research has shown that users typically have a patience threshold of less than four seconds for a web page to load on a mobile device; on a desktop it is even lower. While developing for mobile apps, especially for consumers, requires more frequent updates than a traditional website, it is imperative to maximize user experience.

In addition to consumer-facing apps, business intelligence is an area where HTML5 has become the preferred platform for mobile devices. Developers can create a report dashboard once and have it automatically available on any device with an HTML5 compliant browser. And with advanced caching options that improve device operation, HTML5 applications enable enhanced visualization for analytics. Developers can now deliver rich and detailed views of data, giving institutions better and faster insights into customer functionality preferences and service needs.

Financial firms also need to integrate mobile apps with their back-end systems to adhere to GRC (governance, regulatory, compliance) mandates. This includes possible new mobile banking rules to deal with data entry error resolution owing to smaller keyboards, as well as data security and fraud risks, particularly if third-party providers are involved.

The Numbers Tell the Story

Gartner forecasts that over 2.3 billion mobile devices will ship worldwide this year. Tablets are expected to grow by 67.9% over 2012, while mobile phones are projected to increase by 4.3%, as notebook and desktop PC shipments are expected to decline by 10.6%.

As a result, development for mobile applications is accelerating, outpacing that of apps for Web or desktops. And more CIOs are opting for HTML5 as the preferred standard for developing cross-platform web and mobile applications. Written in JavaScript and supporting increasingly sophisticated graphic capabilities, HTML5 run in Web browsers is becoming increasingly agnostic to the nature of the device running the browser.

Reducing the need to create native applications for multiple platforms means faster time-to-market and insights by speeding up the development process while reducing costs. The smaller screens and limited computing resources of mobile devices also force developers to improve their efficiency and effectiveness. Since performance of apps can vary on different devices, and new devices continue to be introduced, CIOs should implement agile best practices in their dev/test environments.

While final specifications of HTML5 are unlikely to be ratified until 2014, a recent survey by Evans Data is very telling about adoption. Of 1,200 developers, 75% are already using HTML5 for application development.

In terms of importance to the development cycle, respondents also rated HTML5 20% higher on average than Microsoft’s Silverlight or Adobe’s Flash, both of which require tags or special plug-ins at additional cost for certain media capabilities. Notably, some major financial firms have begun to develop exclusively with HTML5 for mobile and web, giving up on creating native, platform-specific apps.

Greater Flexibility at Lower Cost

As mentioned above, the key driver of this evolution is the rich user experience demanded by new platforms. These include powerful audio and video support, increasing device storage capabilities and highly advanced accessibility. But the most significant technology facilitator has been the incorporation of auto-updating in the major browsers. This has given developers more confidence using HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript features.

In addition, next-generation no-SQL databases such as MongoDB, CouchDB and ZeroMQ alleviate the complexity of database migration scripts and code re-writes necessitated by traditional software to make even minor changes. As an open format interoperable between mobile and web, HTML5 also reduces the risk of vendor lock-in. Developers leveraging greater choice of tools and extended support available in the open source community are not limited by proprietary plug-ins.

Institutions are also using tools to measure response times for mobile apps and web performance. IT teams should establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to establish benchmarks for user experience assurance and expedite troubleshooting. While network issues may sometimes explain slow response times, developer efficiency is often more important. Composite apps with fewer page elements allow pages to load faster — even if the institution cannot cram all of the information it would like onto pages. A byproduct is tighter collaboration between IT and marketing.

Not Perfect, But Worth the Effort

Technical glitches that occur across and within mobile platforms still need to be addressed. Since HTML apps do not communicate directly with the user’s device, they cannot easily tap into native operating systems capabilities such as GPS, audio and video. For this, Forrester recommends developers use, Modernizr and the HTML5 boilerplate for differences in browser support and identify cross-platform features.

Of note, older versions of Microsoft Explorer do not work effectively with HTML5. Additionally, tools and documentation for mobile web application development are not fully complete. Finally, demand for native apps will still exist where deeper hardware integration and acceleration or ultra-fast performance is required.

Nevertheless, CIOs at many financial firms see HTML5 as a high-ROI solution. It can replace the silos of native operating systems and hybrid apps build on proprietary platforms with open, device-agnostic platforms that provide full and consistent web access. With a common language, HTML5 will completely overtake native operating systems development.

Gabriel Lowy is the founder of TechTonics Advisors, a research-first investor relations consultancy that helps technology companies maximize value for all stakeholders by bridging vision, strategy, product portfolio and markets with analysts and investors
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