Partisan technology reporting

Rory Pyatt linked me up to an article on Techcrunch today about HTML5 vs native application development. It annoyed me, a lot, for a number of reasons. Here are a few:

#1 and this is the biggy – HTML5 is not an application development framework and it is not “in competition” with native platform technologies. If you really need help in deciding which technology framework to build your application on, then you haven’t thought enough about that application’s architecture, ux or strategy. Hence my vehement hatred of the “let’s do in HTML5” thing that technologists often hear from buzzword-wielding product owners without fully understanding what that means or why it might or might not be appropriate. Without wishing to add to the reams of debate on the HTML5 branding issue, HTML5 is still, essentially, a MARKUP specification. That is all. Even if you add the “and related technologies” tagline, it’s still mostly covering the UI alone, and not an application framework.

It amazes me the imbalance of coverage on HTML5’s usefulness as an improved semantic markup spec versus canvas and video (and related techs like CSS3, webkit transitions and javascript frameworks, particularly the latter which have been around long before HTML5)

#2 That article is, like most tech news lately, deeply partisan and not doing anyone any favours. Apple have become the Fox News of technology and Steve Jobs is their Bill O’Reilly (ok, that’s a bit inflammatory but I hope you see my point). This shouldn’t be a battle between advocates of native application development and advocates of the front end stack. What then happens is that the methodology is placed before the actual needs of the customer, the application or the platform. This will be a common theme for many working within complex organisations.

#3. The political manoeuvring of the big tech companies is largely PR and market positioning, and not a crib sheet to the future. Whilst we should always listen to what the industry and it’s analysts are saying, our primary responsibility at the creative coalface, is to the message we are communicating and to the end-user. We will build in whichever technology delivers the best experience. Besides, a developer will have a short career if they are not pragmatic about their toolkits, particularly given how fast things can change. Seb Lee-Desisle’s recent blogposts about flash vs HTML5 should be required reading on this point.

I think the most telling line from that article is Hewitt’s tweet: “I want desperately to be a web developer again, but if I have to wait until 2020 for browsers to do what Cocoa can do in 2010, I won’t wait.” If you wish to be a web developer again, then I’d suggest building experiences within the web toolkit. Cocoa is not designed for the web. It’s designed for it’s own platform. That’s a little bit like me saying I’d like to build Half Life 2 in VRML. If you are building native platform experiences (like the awesome, paradigm shifting music applications that we’re starting to see on the iPad), then native platform it is, along with the considerable resources it requires to do so. If you are building a glorified RSS reader, then HTML5 is your friend…and there are many wrappers available to push to the appstore if that is part of your business strategy.

tl;dr: you don’t use a hammer to fix a pair of glasses – the world is a developer’s oyster at the moment. Use all the technologies – use them wisely.