I was given a great article by my manager recently discussing potential effects of HTML5 on the banking industry. The proliferation of app stores on various platforms has made people like me (software developers in online banking) rethink how we approach the idea of compatibility, availability, services, deployments and platforms. At most our current responsibility covered the main browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome) and a couple of their older versions. Now we are forced to consider iPhones and iPads (and a variety of Android equivalents).

Today with the widespread popularity of the smart phones and tablets, the app store has become the first port of call for any potential customer. It serves as very really marketing opportunity for Financial Institutions (FIs) to introduce their brand and services within a new channel. Even with the ubiquity of the web browsers in these mobile devices people are just simply more likely to go the app store than to actually navigate to the FIs website.

There has been some significant excitement about HTML5 and what that standard means for desktops and mobile devices alike. It has led many to suggest that the days of the closed app store maybe numbered (I am not so sure). Either way what HTML5 does provide us with is an extremely powerful and flexible open standard (as yet unfinished) that everyone can take advantage of. However the notion of a HTML5 based standard stands in contrast to a platform dependent app that requires intimate knowledge of the OS. For a web developer like myself these platforms represent a significant learning curve in order to produce an app that can take advantage of the inherent OS features.

The New York Times had a great piece that seemed to run counter to the notion of HTML5 being a logical open solution for service providers who want to be platform agnostic.

“Applications that are predominantly HTML5 render most of the components of an app as a Web page, pulling images and content from the Web directly into the application. Objective-C takes the opposite approach, taking full advantage of the hardware in the iPhone and then building most of the functionality directly into the application so it has to collect less information from the Web.”

I think one of the biggest mistakes we as standard web developers can make is to simply produce a facsimile of the standard browser experience within a native app. While this would be the path of least resistance, we would effectively ignore the wealth of additional tools, and functionality that a simple browser might not have access to. We should consider how to respond to orientation, GPS, shared data contracts, contact lists, etc. We should treat the smartphone like a smartphone not like a dumb web browser. 

I am extremely excited about tools like like PhoneGap that provide a single HTML5 app platform that can target multiple mobile offerings (iPhone, Windows Phone, Android. WebOS, BlackBerry). Effectively you write your app using HTML5, CSS and JavaScript and this provides you with the ability to access the native features of the mobile device. You can then deploy your app to multiple platforms! I am hoping this kind of approach will provide the appropriate union of the web and app developer, while simultaneously maintaining a single (or close to single) code base.