‘HTML5 vs. Native’ development decision … What’s best for your clients?
Back in the late 1990s TFB (as we were at that time) had developed and promoted Senior Partner III – an integrated practice and case management system based around a 4GL (remember them?). It was a very successful product but fashion was changing and it was obvious that Windows was the way to go, so we started developing Partner for Windows.
Internet Explorer was born in 1995 and by the late 90s we designed and developed our first portal product as a lawyer viewing screen for Senior Partner III with a view to making it compatible with our newer product when it was ready.
It generated a lot of interest and we quickly sold systems to two law firms. A year later we withdrew the product. It was an idea ahead of its time and suffered from three significant flaws, both internal and environmental: (1) many law firms were not ready at that time for a browser based product; (2) the technology available to deliver content was very complex and (3) as a business we struggled to keep the two products in sync and ultimately our investment was always predominantly directed to the main product.
Developing a browser based product back then may have been a case of picking the wrong technology at the wrong time but moving forward to today, nobody would question the wisdom or even the desirability of developing browser based products.
Technology moves on and what was the wrong decision yesterday might well be the correct decision today.
There has been a lot of industry chatter about whether native apps or HTML5 is the way to go, not only for time recording, but for a myriad of line of business applications and services.
Based on popular demand (and lots of opinions on various legal blogs and sites), this blog provides the ideal forum to shed some light into Tikit’s decision ‘to go HTML5’ as the preferred development environment for Carpe Diem Next Generation.
HTML5 has come of age. It was only finally ratified and agreed as a standard in October 2014 and quickly became adopted due its cross browser capabilities. As far back as 2011, Strategy Analytics, a leading market research and business analytics firm, predicted that HTML5 compatible smartphone sales would top 1 billion units by 2013 http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=pressreleaseviewer&a0=5145
There is an excellent article about HTML5 in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML5 which provides more background than I could possibly give in this article. There are a number of available HTML5 key features that are fundamental to the design of Carpe Diem Next Generation.
Technology infrastructure aka database
HTML5 has a built-in API for an indexed database. This makes it much easier to store data on the local device (desktop, tablet and mobile) in a consistent manner across all devices. The fact that the database is indexed means that many of the challenges around HTML5 performance can be eradicated by using the local database.
Many mobile applications (and by mobile I mean laptops as well as tablets and mobile phones) need to work offline due to no signal, poor signal or expensive roaming charges. This is essential for time recording applications where lawyers will want to work in aeroplanes or parts of the world where decent mobile signals are not always possible. HTML5 provides for this using the local database. It has an additional benefit that by using the offline database in normal use, network traffic is reduced (saving mobile charges) and performance is improved for the same reason.
Drag and drop
One of the difficulties with developing cross browser and cross platform applications is the way we expect to interface with our devices. We expect to be able to use ‘drag and drop’ on our desktop but have no real expectation of this on a mobile. HTML5 supports drag and drop so we can provide a user experience that works as expected on any device.
I have to smile when I read that just because some developers have tried and failed to deliver a great UX using HTML5 it must mean it can’t be done. No it doesn’t – it just means that they couldn’t do it. Just because nobody had run a 4 minute mile in 1953 didn’t mean it couldn’t be done as Roger Bannister proved so brilliantly in 1954.
We all know that Facebook decided to drop HTML5 in favour of native apps but that was in 2012, LinkedIn did the same thing 2013. That was then and this is now. I wouldn’t have picked HTML5 in 2013, but I am comfortable doing so in 2015.
To an extent though, these features (and a load of others I could have listed) are largely irrelevant. Of course we couldn’t have written Carpe Diem Next Generation using HTML5 without them, but ultimately the actual users of the products don’t care about that. We decided to use HTML5 to develop our products because of the benefits it would bring to our clients.
Here are just a few of them…..
- Carpe Diem Next Generation works identically across every platform. From an Android phone to a Microsoft Surface through Apple devices to a huge desktop with multiple screens. The user experience is the same with the product automatically adapting to the size of the screen used. This includes switching seamlessly between landscape and portrait mode on those devices that support it.
- Every feature of Carpe Diem Next Generation is available across every device on which it is deployed. There is no restriction just because you are on a mobile. Working away from the office is not just about time capture, but full management of time as well. In an always connected world, where some lawyers don’t get back to their desks for days at a time and want to work remotely, this is vital.
- Carpe Diem Next Generation will work with any MDM (Mobile Device Management) solution an organisation chooses to deploy. There is no need to produce specific versions of the application to work with each provider.
- It is much easier for IT teams to support a single application rather than needing to consider several native applications as well as a desktop product.
So, HTML5 performs well, offers all the functionality required for a time recording application, offers identical and complete functionality across every device a user has and is easier for firms to deploy and use. Two years ago it wouldn’t have been the right technology for Tikit to use … but in 2015 it absolutely is.