FT exec: HTML5 is not dead


SAN FRANCISCO--"The reports of the death of HTML5 are greatly exaggerated," said Rob Grimshaw, managing director of FinancialTimes.com, the European news outlet. Grimshaw said the FT's decision in 2011 to focus on HTML5 instead of native apps has resulted in increased mobile usage and revenues for the company.

Grimshaw's statement here at the Open Mobile Summit runs counter to recent headlines trumpeting developers' moves from HTML5 apps to native apps. This trend was crystalized by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who in September bemoaned Facebook's use of HTML5. "We've had a bunch of missteps on [mobile]," Zuckerberg admitted at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt conference. "The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5 instead of native... We burned two years." 

Facebook recently replaced its HTML5 app with a native smartphone app, arguing the move dramatically improved its users' mobile experience. Other companies have made similar statements; just yesterday, LinkedIn's Joff Redfern said the company is replacing portions of HTML5 code in its smartphone and tablet apps with native code.

Although HTML5 works across all smartphones--thus eliminating the need for developers to build different apps for iOS, Android and other platforms--HTML5 apps generally don't run as smoothly as those that are designed for the operating system itself. Thus, complex applications like games are generally written in native code.

Grimshaw defended FT's decision to rely on HTML5. "We've done better than we would have in a native environment," he said.

FT famously withdrew from Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) App Store last year in protest of Apple's demands for 30 percent of FT revenues generated though subscriptions obtained through the App Store and that Apple retain ownership of FT subscribers' billing and login information including email addresses. Instead, the FT promoted its HTML5 site for mobile devices, which is open for users to access through a mobile browser. Grimshaw said the FT remains confident it made the right decision, although other news outlets like the New York Times and The Economist have remained in Apple's App Store.

"The rules and the shape of the playing field are determined by the owner of the platform," Grimshaw said. "I don't think that's a restriction we want to live with."

The video above introduces aspects of FT's HTML5-based Web app.

Grimshaw said that FT's audience has grown 77 percent from May 2011 to May 2012, and 13 percent of its advertising revenue now comes from mobile. He said the FT now counts 300,000 paying digital subscribers, and that a "large portion" of those are accessing the company's offerings through smartphones and tablets. He said that between 10 to 15 percent of the company's digital subscriptions are obtained through the company's smartphone and tablet offerings.

But Grimshaw said the FT's reliance on HTML5 has had difficulties. He said the company's biggest problem was routing ads onto its HTML5 sites for smartphones and tablets. Indeed, he said FT acquired Assanka, the vendor that developed its HTML5 sites, and then launched FT Labs, which aims to foster the development of Web technologies like HTML5.

Interestingly, Grimshaw said that FT hasn't completely ignored the app store space. He said the company does offer native apps through Google Play and Microsoft's Windows app store (though he said those apps are made up of 80 to 90 percent HTML5 code). Grimshaw said FT entered those app stores because the company found the terms to be acceptable: "We are not sharing revenue with Google at the moment," he said. He also said the browser on Android phones wasn't powerful enough to properly display FT's HTML5 app, though he said that situation recently changed with the release of Google's Chrome browser for Android.

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