htmlfiveThe evolution from static Web to mobile is an organic, shifting movement for publishers and advertisers. First publishers began creating mobile “versions” of their sites, containing limited content and kluge-y navigation. Next came native apps, smaller and more robust versions of sites with custom navigation. But the problem with apps is that they have to be rebuilt for every OS, every device.

The answer may be in HTML5. With HTML5, apps and mobile sites can be built once and function optimally across all screens, all operating systems, and all browsers. It makes the user experience of transitioning across devices and operating systems seamless — even capturing the native features of a mobile device, such as touch, GPS, and gyroscopic functions. It represents the potential end of the walled garden and the beginning of true standardization.

Even more significantly, because HTML5 powers mobile sites, app abandonment issues can be negated completely. If users have only to type in your URL to serve up a rich mobile experience, there’s no need to worry about whether your app can be found in a particular store. In fact, there’s a strong case for building an HTML5 mobile site and skipping that app all together because. As Forbes notes, “HTML5 helps reduce the functionality gap between mobile websites and apps.”

Pundits will argue that monetization hasn’t been proven with HTML5 apps, and that user experiences won’t be as rich as they are with native apps. For games, certain print publisher’s apps, and online services, this will matter. Paid apps may be your bread and butter, and for that, you’ll need an app store. But for many online publishers and brands whose monetization strategy relies on ad revenue, there are several other advantages that should make HTML5 a strong consideration:

  1. Cost savings: Since HTML5 works across platforms — including the desktop, development costs are significantly lower. Build once, pay once.
  2. Availability of developers: A recent study announced that more than half of mobile developers have already built in HTML, and nearly 90 percent plan to use it this year. That’s a lot of resources.
  3. Real-time updates and distribution control: As Business Insider puts it, since HTML5 is Web-based it has the advantage of “added openness.” Gatekeepers like Apple, Google, and Amazon can’t stand in the way of instant updates.
  4. Advertising with HTML5 is flexible, too: Ads built in HTML5 can also run seamlessly across devices. And they’re capable of delivering rich, premium advertising experiences that can drive engagement — and higher prices.

There’s only one thing holding HTML5 advertising back today: The world of publishers, networks and exchanges isn’t quite ready for it. It wasn’t long ago that Facebook said that relying on HTML5 for its mobile strategy had been its “biggest mistake ever.” And LinkedIn recently shifted their mobile strategy from HTML5 to native. Kirin Prasad of LinkedIn told VentureBeat:

The primary reason for that is, we’re seeing that more and more people are spending more time in the app, and the app is running out of memory. It’s not performance issues, like speed or rendering, but it’s still a big problem. The second reason we’ve gone native is trying to get some of the animations — the spinners and the way they work — getting that smoothness, we felt like we needed native to really do that well.

That said, it should be noted that both companies leverage HTML5 for their heavily visited mobile sites, even if their apps remain native.

It may be that publishers and brands prefer native because of the support provided by companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Samsung. App store providers depend on quality apps for market share and profitability, and therefore provide the tools needed to build and support those apps. The openness that makes HTML5 easy to update and distribute is also its worst enemy in this respect. As a democratic protocol, it lacks support outside of developer forums.

The IAB is taking some steps to remedy this, at least on the advertiser side. With the formation of a work group and a recently shared document titled, “HTML5 for Digital Advertising 1.0: Guidance for Ad Designers & Creative Technologists.” For publishers, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Google is investing heavily in HTML5 — mostly for advertisers at this point. But considering their stake in Android (and AdMob), support on the publishing side probably won’t be far behind, especially since Google is using HTML5 to deliver some of its own premium content.

Regardless, it’s time for brands and publishers to get on board with HTML5.  FT.com, Playboy and Rolling Stone are already reaping the benefits, gaining revenue from both subscribers and advertisers, as are Condé Nast, the New York Times and others. The opportunity to reach users easily across screens, and then drive revenue with rich advertising experiences seems like a no-brainer. Which begs the question, who hasn’t adopted HTML5 yet? And why not?

[Image courtesy justinsomnia]