Facebook's HTML5 storefront puts pressure on Mozilla Marketplace

Peggy Albright

The evolution to web apps based on HTML5 made tremendous progress this month.

Most notably, Facebook announced plans to offer a storefront for HTML5 apps and, separately, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's magazine, Technology Review, published a case study detailing its decision to abandon native apps in favor of HTML5 for delivering content to mobile devices. Now the mobile industry must wait for Mozilla to take the next step and launch its Mozilla Marketplace for apps that use its HTML5-based mobile OS, called Boot to Gecko.

Ragavan Srinivasan, apps product manager at Mozilla, told FierceDeveloper that the Mozilla Marketplace will be made available to the public later this year.

"A number of app developers have expressed interest in the marketplace, and we're busy working through submissions," he said. 

The pressure is on Mozilla to deliver, given Facebook's announcement, but Mozilla's strategy is also bolstered by Facebook's move. Facebook said that it is introducing an App Center and, along with distributing iOS and Android apps that integrate with the Facebook platform, it will distribute web apps built with HTML5. Facebook will thus help drive an inventory of products based on HTML5, help HTML5 gain traction in the market and create an outlet for developers to distribute HTML5 apps in addition to, or in lieu of, their work in iOS, Android and other native platforms.

As a milestone the Technology Review case study is not as significant as Facebook's announcement, but it is important because it revealed, in fairly dramatic detail, the reasons why some companies will prefer HTML5 over native apps. No doubt, some businesses that are assessing the pros and cons of native app vs. HTML5 for their businesses, and others that have been developing HTML5 strategies but haven't gotten there yet, will look for guidance in the publisher's experience.

The magazine said that it had expected iOS and Android apps, especially its app for iOS tablets, to provide a great medium for its content. Although it invested $124,000 in native app development, it only acquired 353 subscriptions after a year. It was dissatisfied with the need to design for both landscape and portrait display. And its readers wanted the stories in their apps to have the "linky-ness" of the web, but the apps couldn't really do that effectively. Technology Review described a sincere effort to make apps work, but declared the effort a failure. The magazine said it will follow the strategy adopted last year by the Financial Times, and use HTML5 so that its readers can see the magazine's Web pages on any device, whether a tablet, smartphone, laptop or desktop computer.

Certainly there is plenty of room in the mobile market for native apps as well as web-based apps written in HTML5. In fact, the mobile market will eventually be filled by apps representing a continuum of approaches. Some apps will be based on native platforms so they can fully exploit the device processor and other device capabilities. Apps that aren't so dependent on device resources, like Technology Review, will be based on HTML5 because it can work in multiple platforms and form factors. In between those two extremes will be hybrid apps that use a little of both techniques.

But the spotlight is on HTML5 right now, and the next move to look for should come from Mozilla. HTML5 advocates will be watching closely to see if Mozilla can make a meaningful introduction for its Mozilla Marketplace and continue to move this new industry forward.--Peggy