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iOS 6, Android, HTML5: Which Publishing Platform Prevails?

The ultimate winner isn't really a traditional "platform" at all

August is “platforms” month here in TOC-land. That means we’re throwing iOS and Android into the Thunderdome arena to fight it out. It’s not really, “two platforms enter, one platform leaves” though. After all, there’s a third player in this one, its name is HTML5 and I’m betting it ultimately wins the war.

When the topic of platform-specific apps comes up I’m hearing the same thing over and over from publishers. They sank a lot of money into iOS because it was (and by some measures remains) the leader. The experts then told them they also need to invest in Android so some spent even more money on this popular but splintered platform.

The result? Mostly disappointment. With publishers shrinking and budgets tightening why make parallel investments in book apps for iOS and Android, especially if HTML5 can be used across both (as well as other) platforms?

One reason to stay with a platform-specific approach is that your apps can fully leverage all the device’s capabilities. That’s generally not possible with HTML5 but (a) I’ll bet that situation changes and (b) how many rich ebooks really need to communicate with a phone’s built-in gyroscope, for example?

What do you think? Will publishing opt for a more agnostic solution like HTML5 or are we likely to see more investments in iOS- and Android-specific apps?

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Comments: 9

  1. We’re likely to see HTML as the “language” of publishing, just as PostScript and PDF have been the language of the print world. How HTML is packaged and displayed will vary widely; there will be EPUB-based readers, more custom platforms like @Inkling:twitter and many of those more customized experiences will be implemented as native applications for iOS, Android and “the web,” which is an HTML and JavaScript application wrapped around the HTML-based content.

    Windows 8 and Chrome as “platforms” should not be forgotten, as they use the technology of HTML as a first-class development choice.

    Some books will need the gyroscope to be exciting and useful: think about taking your travel guide into the museum and exploring the statue of David through an augmented reality exhibit. Yes, that could be a custom-developed app, but I believe it deserves to be a digital book product.

    I think the platforms that win will be on top of each of the platforms you cite. They’ll all use HTML as the baseline format. But hey, I’m biased.

  2. The HTML5 publication will only and really can only exist in
    a world where iOS publications and Android publications are available too.
    There are millions of iOS devices out there but in the cell phone segment the
    iPhone as a device remains only part of a massive market. 

  3. I think the answer is rather simple. Whatever will best meet the needs of users (aka readers) at the lowest cost for publishers. That sounds a lot like HTML5.

  4. Hi Joe,

    great post as usual. I’m all for HTML5, but our experience at @24symbols:disqus  tells us that, by now, and unless you create specific HTMl5 versions for specific devices/resolutions, a native app is required. And not only to, as you say, have access to the gyroscope. When user experience is a must (as in our case), there are things you just cannot accept in terms of delays, unexpected effects in specific devices, etc. It’s the same problem I used to suffer during the IE/Netscape, then IE/Firefox/Chrome web developments, but multiplied by a mandatoriness for responsive design. 

    I agree with you. HTML5 is on their way. But they’d better hurry up!

    P.S. Some guys led by super Anna Lewis from @valobox gave our short opinion about the matter here. http://www.futurebook.net/content/cruising-browsing-experience

    • Excellent point, Justo. I was speaking with an O’Reilly colleague about this recently and he pointed out that HTML5 will eventually allow more access to specific device features but it will probably never offer full access to every sensor within the device.

      I encourage everyone reading this to take a closer look at both 24symbols and Valobox…they’re two of the more innovative startups I’ve spoken with over the past year.

  5. The question will always be: what does the job most effectively, with the greatest efficiency? Having to create content for differing platforms isn’t efficient for the content producer (though it is for the device producer); content producers would love to have one format to rule them all. But it remains to be seen whether that one format will deliver the same quality experience for all users unless the competing operating systems get on board. Which they have little incentive to do, since the object of the exercise for them is differentiating themselves. So the essential tension remains.

    • That’s true, Rebecca, but I believe HTML5 has many of the best features that publishers will want going forward. It’s possible another format will emerge or overtake HTML5’s potential but the portability factor alone, and the point that your content will render just fine in any HTML5-compliant browser, means we won’t be dependent on reader apps and other intermediaries.

  6. Love the new blog, Joe!

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