Why Brands Should Cool It on HTML5

Since Apple ditched its support for Adobe’s Flash technology, brands and agencies have rushed to adopt HTML5 as a replacement. But according to Dave Meeker, director of emerging technologies at Aegis-owned digital shop Roundarch, many are getting carried away. HTML5 is still a relatively immature technology,and it is surrounded by myths and misconceptions, he says.

How much do brands really understand about HTML5?
Brands generally don’t know what they don’t know about HTML5. There’s a lot of confusion around what it is and what it isn’t, and we spend a lot of time demystifying it for our clients. Many clients don’t understand the difference between Flash and HTML5; they just want to reach their market, and they know Flash doesn’t work on the iPad. Others will come to us with the impression it’s a simple solution for building experiences once and deploying across all channels, but we’re not really there yet. It’s technically true, but it’s a lot more work to get it working well across a range of devices. The fact of the matter is it may take just as long to build something in HTML5 as it would to build native experiences for different platforms. We’re still building a lot of native apps for iOS and Android right now, for example.

Where do the misconceptions come from?
The technological migration does exist, but this is the first time in the past 15 years that the necessity to react to it has really been driven by the media, and by marketing and business people. Because of all the buzz that was created around Apple’s decision to drop its support for Adobe Flash, a lot of business people automatically thought they needed to start using HTML5 immediately. It’s a unique situation to have the media driving the conversations we’re having with clients. But when they ask about HTML5, we try to back them away from thinking about specific technologies and start with a conversation about the problem at hand. If they need something that’s campaign-based and is only going to live for four months, then the technology considerations are very different, for example, and HTML5 might not make sense. Most of recommendations I’m making to clients are based on what they’re trying to achieve. Right now, that usually involves a native-type experience.

So brands haven’t been slow to adopt the technology?
I think they’re wanting to adopt it faster than they need to, not slower. For some of our media and entertainment clients, we’re trying to figure out how to migrate to HTML5, for example, but not many people talk about the fact that HTML5 does not give you things like video content protection. That’s a problem.

What about the distribution piece? Doesn’t it make sense to have mobile experiences accessible via a single URL?
From the research we’ve done, the mobile Web works really well when people are after content, like news or sports reports, or things like movie times. If they’re looking for a more utility-driven experience, like changing the lineup of their fantasy football team, it still doesn’t feel as right. Having a native app still makes a lot of sense for a lot of brands. A lot of the social integration parts also become a bad experience on the Web. If I share something on Facebook, for example, it takes me away to the Facebook site. It often feels better in a native app, as opposed to the Web bouncing me from place to place.

Are brands getting a little carried away with HTML5, then?
We’re getting a little carried away, yes. I think agencies need to educate their clients better. A lot of money out there is being spent on the exercise of migrating to a new specification that isn’t finalized, and around which there’s still a lot of misinformation. When clients say they want HTML5, what they’re really saying is they want a better user experience, and they want it regardless of what type of computer they’re on. That doesn’t have to be HTML5. We haven’t seen a backlash yet, but when a company invests millions of dollars in a multi-channel, cross-platform HTML5 experience and it all falls apart, people will probably lose their jobs.


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