When Apple changed their App Store policies earlier this summer, they made it so all in-app purchases were also required to pay the same commissions as the apps themselves. This was a significant change, especially for the larger organizations that didn’t have the 30% margins worked into the costs of the purchases users would be making.
The answer for many companies, such as the Financial Times was to migrate from a native iOS app to an HTML 5 based web app and circumventing Apple’s regulations entirely.
HTML 5-based Web apps don’t require Apple approval in any way while remaining accessible from any iOS based device. This gives developers significant freedom while carrying other advantages as well. Web apps are cross-platform which means the development of a single application gives access from any devices whether it is running Android, Windows or iOS. This reduces the development time and effort required, while also providing a single source of updating and bug fixing with no wait times requiring additional approvals or considerations.
And it seems to work well. But what are the practical limits on HTML 5? Delivery of subscription content like a newspaper requires fairly little overhead compared to what is required for the kinds of interactive content found in video games. So far, it’s difficult to say.
The news stories are abundant with developers making the switch. We are all eagerly expecting the arrival of Donkey Kong II using HTML 5 while also seeing Adobe use the same technology to repackage Flash content. This kind of interactive and resource-heavy design requires much more significant resources than simple e-commerce style delivery of digital newspaper subscriptions.
Apple had to expect this would be the response when they implemented these new regulations, so why did they proceed? In reality, what did the have to lose? It wasn’t as if they were receiving income under the old structure, even though they were providing a marketing and distribution service to these companies and developers by containing these apps in the App Store. Users would download the free ‘container’ applications and in turn use them to shop for additional content or services with nothing being filtered back to Apple at all.
For now, I’m going to bet Apple is sitting by and waiting to see just how capable HTML 5 is and hoping the practical limitations of web-based delivery will appear sooner than later. To begin, users need to remember that an active Internet connection is required at all times while using one of these new-fangled web apps, something that isn’t the case with more native iOS apps.
So is HTML 5 the miracle web standard it appears to be? Can mobile Safari keep up with the increasing demand for resources that will be required for multimedia rich content? Where is the bottleneck going to be?