Mobile HTML5 Not Ready for Big Time?

Mobile HTML5 may not be ready for prime time. A couple of recent events have cast a shadow over the current suitability of HTML5 as the perfect replacement for Native Apps (on smartphones).

First is the replacement of Facebook’s iOS app. Facebook acknowledges that it’s slow and needs to be better. The current App is actually written in HTML5, and it’s slow because every time you do something, it has to fetch a lot of data. Cell phone broadband responsiveness (on 3G) is notorious for having a wider range of ping times than compared to broadband.

The Facebook App was developed in HTML5 to simplify and speed up cross-platform development. But the slowness became too much. The iOS version that will replace it is “fast, blazing fast,” according to New York Times blogger Nick Bilton. The replacement is due for release next month.

The second event was the open source release of German company Wooga’s HTML5 Magic Land Island, under the name Pocket Island. Compared to their Diamond Dash game, which was released as an iOS App, Magic Land Island had a very poor one-day retention rate of 5%, compared to Diamond Dash’s 50%. Additionally, just 1.3 million have played Magic Land Island, compared to 18 million for Diamond Dash. Wooga is hoping that open source developers will be able to improve the game.

It’s possibly unfair to read too much from these two stories, especially as both involve mobile. It’s still early days for HTML5 games generally, and the technology is coming in leaps and bounds, whereas Native Apps and Flash development are both now very mature technologies.

Wooga’s release of Pocket Island originally was seen as an experiment for Facebook’s HTML5 platform. Pocket Island is self-contained and doesn’t use the internet, so any criticisms must be about game play responsiveness, crashes, etc.

There are many high-quality games in the App Store written in Objective-C, so an HTML5 game competing in the same space is probably going to be judged unfairly. Traditionally, HTML games on iOS tend to be more static; typically, the gangster strategy games are all based on Dope Wars. Pocket Island is about city building in a fantasy setting and involves a lot of dragging. Maybe it’s me, but when playing the game on an iPhone 4, the dragging felt slightly sluggish.

The big question here is whether it’s HTML5 (and JavaScript) that’s the issue generally or is it just because it’s on mobile? Native client developed games will always have an edge, but with enough CPU power does it really matter?

Pocket Island is now available in the iTunes App Store as a free game for both iPhone/iPad so try it out and judge for yourself. Even better, obtain the source code and improve it.

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Comments

  1. BY Andy Richnan says:

    Hi David

    Great piece …… probably as this is something we think about a lot and agree with your prognosis. We have been working to develop a platform that fills exactly the void you describe. For sure effective mobile HTML5 is a long way off and the custom native development is not going to be cost effective for a lot of interactive entertainment apps which in a former life would have been developed with Flash.

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