I doubt Apple cares how much HTML Facebook uses in its app. And if it does, it is being hypocritical. All of the following Apple-made iOS apps use embedded webviews in some capacity:
- App Store
- iTunes U
- Apple Store
And that’s not counting the fact that both the iAd and iBooks formats are built on HTML5. Why aren’t people clamoring for Apple to create a “native” version of iBooks or the App Store?
Apple has a lot invested in HTML5. How quickly we forget that WebKit—the rendering engine used by Google Chrome, Android Browser, Samsung’s Dolfin Browser, Blackberry Browser, and numerous others I’m forgetting—was partially created by Apple because of the need to embed web content in a native application.1
On the mobile front, Apple has pushed the browser more quickly and further than other companies. The advances still aren’t fast enough for my tastes, and I hope competitors catch up and turn the heat on Apple’s browser effort. Regardless, you’d be hard pressed to make a case that Apple isn’t a major contributor to HTML5.
I suspect Apple does what we do at Cloud Four when we look at apps. Apple likely takes a look at the features of the app and tries to determine if the feature is better as native, web or some combination thereof. When I took a look at the traffic from Apple’s own apps, I certainly saw indications of that thought process. I found:
- Screens that were full native and receiving binary plist files
- Screens that were native and received JSON data
- Screens that were embedded webviews with the full HTML document, associated CSS and JS downloaded
- Screens that were mostly native, but received JSON with HTML encapsulated inside of it for display in certain areas of the screen
So do I think Apple cares if Facebook uses HTML5 in their app? No. I think Apple cares that users have a great experience using Facebook on its platforms. And it is clear that the old Facebook app wasn’t a good experience, and they needed to improve it.
Does that mean that Facebook had to go “fully native” to create a great experience in the eyes of Apple? Obviously not given the fact Apple is using a mixture of web and native its own apps.
There’s a common saying in startups: Ideas don’t matter. Execution does.
For apps, a similar statement can be made: Languages don’t matter. The experience does.
Focus on a great experience, use whatever tools you need to create that experience, and if you succeed, no one will care how the app is built.
- When Steve Jobs announced Safari at MacWorld Expo 2003, he also announced the WebCore framework and how it had been included in Sherlock. Did the need for a browser come first? Or the need to embed web pages in apps like Sherlock and later iTunes come first? Probably the browser, but it is clear Apple thought early on how the browser rendering engine could be reused inside apps.