HTML 5 vs. Native Applications

Every month or so, as part of a series of talks called Engineer-2-Engineer (E2E), one of the gods of software engineering descends into the San Francisco offices of Redfin or Digg to give a technical talk on a practical subject. We’ve had architects from Twitter, Facebook and Pandora talk about Scala, mobile and Hadoop.

Now Redfin’s very own Sasha Aickin just published the slides for a  discussion he led last month, about whether to use a web standard like HTML5 for building mobile apps in lieu of building separate proprietary apps for the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and other devices.

Like everything Sasha writes, it’s funny and thoughtful. The basic argument is that you should use HTML5 unless you:

  1. you need to use the mobile device’s camera, accelerometer or notifications,
  2. you need the app to actually, you know, look and feel really cool
  3. you need to make money from the app, especially by charging for it
  4. you’re worried that no one will be able to find your app outside of an app store like iTunes

Up next are talks about Node.JS, Cassandra, Clusto and scaling an engineering organization. You’re all invited!


  • noaml

    Ahh c'mon. Surely there are strong arguments against 2 and 3. The same tools that can be used to make a web page look and feel really cool can work on HTML5 enabled mobile browsers. Furthermore, look at all the studies AdMob has published and it's clear that far more money is still made from advertising. Point 4 is right on the money. It's a lot easier to get noticed amongst 100k apps than 6B web pages, both organically and through ad spend.

    • Sasha Aickin


      For point 2, in the talk I showed some videos of web apps and native apps that do the same thing side by side (Hand of Greed, Amazon, and GMaps), and the difference for some of them in feel is really, really big. Most of it comes down to performance, which will eventually be taken care of, but the keyword there is *eventually*. As I wrote in the preso, HTML5 will win, but eventually. If you want to do something now, you need to prototype and see if you can live with the feel.

      For point 3, Glenn slightly mischaracterized what I said. I actually said that HTML5 was slightly better than native for ad-based apps because of Apple's new terms of service, but if you wanted to charge in-app (and a lot of folks do, despite AdMob's studies), you have to go native. In-app payment solutions in mobile HTML are really terrible. So what I said was: if you want to get paid directly by users, go native.

      • GlennKelman

        Re point 3, guilty as charged. I was scrambling yesterday.

  • Sasha Aickin

    Hey, no worries. We're all running full speed.

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  • murat

    Cross platform can be a solution. smartface Designer allow you to build mobile apps without writing any line of code. Also, it works for Symbian,Java, BB… It is not browser based it generates native output files like jar,sisx….
    Yuu can check out from

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  • Michael Mullany

    Sasha – are you going to update this after you build your first Sencha Touch app!

  • AllTheRides.Com

    I had a native app and a HTML5 app and the performance of native app was much greater.

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