State of HTML5 mobile app development in the enterprise

Web app trade-offs

Web apps are very common today in the enterprise, with 54% of developers spending at least a portion of their time writing HTML and CSS, said Michael Facemire, principal analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. That’s because developers can build a single web app for multiple mobile devices and operating systems — creating the popular new party line « build once, deploy anywhere. »

« For all the different devices that enterprises have to support their employees using or their business partners using, it’s becoming harder to dictate that they only use a certain kind of device, » Facemire said.

It can be costly to limit an organization to native apps that are tailored to a single device type or OS. Porting an app to a new OS increases the cost of the app by 50% to 70%, according to Forrester.

54% of developers spend at least a portion of their time writing HTML and CSS.

Source: Forrester Research

Plus, web apps offer some security benefits over native mobile apps. Most of the data users access is not stored locally within the mobile app or on the device, making it more difficult for a breach to occur. The Web Storage standard, a new plug-in in HTML5, only stores information such as configuration data or the last page a user visited — never usernames, passwords or other user-provided data.

« With web apps, you generally aren’t leaving a lot of data behind, » Facemire said.

Michael Facemire, Forrester Michael Facemire

Still, it can be tricky for IT departments to protect HTML5 apps because they are basically only as secure as the browser — an element that IT has less control over, said Vinay Raja, director of technology at Boston Technology Corporation, a software development firm in Marlborough, Mass. Native apps, on the other hand, allow developers to build in custom security features such as app- or file-level encryption and let IT control them through third-party tools, such as enterprise mobility management software.

Functionality can also suffer when it comes to HTML5 apps.

« Everything depends on how the browser performs, » Raja said. « That’s the major issue we face regarding the performance and the functionality. »

The capabilities of the browser and operating system dictate what an HTML5 app can do, especially in terms of supporting device features such as the camera. Developers might build camera functionality into an app, but then a user’s specific browser might require an extra plug-in for them to access that feature, making it cumbersome — or impossible, based on the OS — to use.

« You’re limited by the support of the hardware, the native side of it, » Raja said. « You try to exploit that to achieve whatever the app requires. »

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