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The Platform Owners Are In Control

When it comes to HTML5 apps displacing native apps on mobile devices I’m waiting for something exciting to come out that goes beyond newspapers and e-readers. The only thing interesting about Amazon and The Financial Times creating HTML5 apps for the iPad are that they’re big companies.

There’s a reason why the only companies making news about betting their business on HTML5 mobile apps are the ones in publishing, and it’s because their existing business models wouldn’t survive giving up 30% of subscription revenue to Apple under the new App Store policies. They are struggling because they haven’t innovated their business models, and the ones they have won’t cut it following another company’s rules.

The tone used in any of the articles about the Financial Times, Kobo, or Amazon creating HTMl5 apps and moving away from native apps is that these companies are innovating and adopting a new technology to bypass the rules set by Apple. But if the only reason they’re building HTML5 apps is because a 30% cut is killing their margins, then it’s not innovating but instead only reactionary.

Mitch Joel wrote an interesting article on some of this stuff with one particular passage I think’s worth repeating:

While many brands are rushing to put out these cloud-based apps on their own, it’s not hard to imagine a time in the not-so-distant-future where most brand spaces are simple and malleable. It would make sense if a media company could create one website that can then adapt and adjust to each platform instead of having to program a website, a mobile version, an Apple app , an Android app, etc… So, while we’re not there yet (and HTML5 doesn’t cure-all), it’s probably going to be one of the next big leaps forward. In the meantime, being able to have the power to create an app that a brand or media entity can control, update and change on the fly (that isn’t beholden to another media entity) not only makes sense, but points us to a new day and age where brands can develop their own media and test the true market power to see if they do indeed, need an Apple or a Google in their corner to dictate their own success. – Mitch Joel, The Evolution Of Apps

From a media perspective, given the goals of clients and how most of them don’t have the same business model constraints of Kobo or Amazon, the debate between HTML5 and native mobile apps shouldn’t be about technology or control. It should be about where consumer attention is. More companies are experimenting with HTML5, and it’s a popular topic in the technology scene, but none of that matters for brands or consumers.

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, iPhone, iPad and Android… This is where consumer attention is. The social networks are where they interact with their friends and the brands they affiliate with. The apps are where they go for rich experiences.

And what about control?

I understand where Mitch is coming from and how brands having control over their apps would be nice, but we just finally got everyone on board with the notion of platforms! Marketing agencies just finally moved everyone to the side of building on platforms. To convince brands to start making HTML5 apps would be a flip-flop.

In the end, this move to platforms is causing brands to lose some of their power just like they lost it when consumers started becoming connected because of social media. At that time, brands could either embrace or ignore the change. This time the platform owners are in control.

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