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May 4, 2012 / Ludwig Heinz

HTML5 vs. Native Apps: Examining Their Use for SAP & Other Enterprise Applications

Written by: Matthias Kumm, Daniel Schön and Ludwig Heinz, itelligence AG

For a long time, it’s been said that HTML5 will prevail as a viable language for enterprise application development. However, many questions remain.

First, what’s the overall problem?

HTML5 is a great uniform standard for developing applications for mobile devices and PCs at the same time. However, when compared to the native implementations, significant hurdles start to show their true colors. Examples include missing standardization, the lack of support through the installed browser-basis, and some functional disadvantages. Many companies also don’t have the required know-how and experience in the development of the productive operations of HTML5 applications. Moreover HTML has to establish itself as the basis of business applications.

The use of “classic” web presence is increasing at a steady pace. Once there are sufficient implementation of mobile applications, HTML5 will definitely be considered an alternative in this area for many companies. Major producers of business software, including SAP, could give a significant impact by bringing their own applications to the market based in HTML5.

How much higher are development costs? What about when a native app needs to be developed instead of HTML5, where one development can be used by any smartphone user?

There is no general correct answer for these questions as it depends on many factors, including the requirements of the target group, the scope of functions and the support combinations of mobile operating systems with operating system version, etc. Our business customers often use the SAP environment just as a mobile platform for their own employees, and they also can define standards for externals in order to reduce the complexity of supporting platforms.

In the development of systems that depend on a specific platform, a large amount of the results of outsets and design can be reused. These results make up a very large part of the total costs. With that in mind, it can be said that the cost advantage of HTML5 development is more relevant when many different mobile operating systems are going to be achieved and the desired applications, with HTML5 features, are easy to implement.

How do you evaluate user acceptance? To what extent do end users expect native apps?

The technology is secondary to the user. The real focus is placed on the users’ experience with an app. Successful apps must feature visually appealing designs, good functionality that can be learned easily, and operated smoothly. For a high level of user acceptance, these expectations must be met early on. For certain platform-specific functions and operating concepts (e.g. Touch-Gestures, or even with the performance, including smooth handling, landscape and portrait format etc.), HTML5 still has disadvantages compared to the native apps.

When are native apps best and when would you recommend HTML5?

It strongly depends on the functionally of the app and the target group. For apps that correspond to a mobile website, running on either a mobile devices or a PC’s browser, HTML5 is a good choice. With additional Frameworks like PhoneGap, Sencha, jQTouch or jQuery Mobile, specific features of mobile devices can also be used. Because HTML5 is initially just the description language for the interface, the actual development of the logic is held in JavaScript. The advantages and disadvantages of these additional components have been opposed before the use of complementary frameworks.

In a competition between an app based on HTML5 and a native app, the native app can always play its advantages against HTML5 because they are optimized for the specific operating system. Certain features of a mobile device, such as Near Field Communication or Cloud Integration, have a deeper integration available; where HTML5 has been eliminated because these features, for example, currently have no support.

How should application companies proceed when considering marketing implications?

For the conception and the dissemination of the app, the marketing department should be involved. Many times, this may include an experienced agency. If the app is new, stylish, innovative, and continuously adds value to the users, has a good chance to spread and become known.  A bad rated app can quickly damage the reputation of the brand. It’s a good idea to get feedback of selected individuals from the target group before the official launch. The app should be published only if the feedback is positive.

How important is the content of an app compared to the functionality of an app? At which point is an app overloaded?

If the app is not intuitive and the user is not getting along with its functions, it is “overloaded.” Even when it’s normal for the user to perform various steps until they reach the desired functionality on a desktop, the mobile device user should reach this level with only a few steps. However, with deeply nested menu trees (e.g. various menus in Word/Office), no one can start something on a mobile device seamlessly. Oversight and the context-intensive functions are two techniques that counter overloading.

Is HTML5 currently in demand? 

Many of our SAP customers have already heard about HTML5 and monitor the developments with great interest. The idea to support different device platform with just one application is very appealing, especially in today’s rapidly evolving world of mobile devices and platforms. With the development of the first applications, know-how and trial-and-error and is being built up. It’s possible that in the near future, native and cross-platform development by HTML5 will be combined to hybrid apps to exploit the advantages of both.

At what point can native apps be developed for various operating systems and at when must customization start?

Until the actual implementation of the app, the development can be made together. The questions about the business process, the layout, design, navigation paths, on– and/or offline and which APIs should be used and can all be determined prior. With implementations it is important to note that we usually create apps in integration with SAP back-end systems. The programming in the SAP back-end to provide REST-services is essentially independent of the front-end implementation of the app. For a good design on different platforms, the design for each needs to be optimized.

Last, what would you advise in most cases – Native app or HTML5?

In many cases we recommend that our SAP business customers use a native app with regard to keeping the number of target platforms as low as possible. These first app projects are often initiated by management and operating departments, which transfer their expectations from the private app using to the business area. These departments typically have little understanding when the results of their own developments cannot give the real “app feeling.”

However, because of its expected importance in the future, the development of HTML5 should be followed closely by the IT departments. If the project requirements fit, then HTML5 should be used.

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