HTML5 is no silver bullet for apps

I sometimes hear people tell me that they are going to let their next app be an HTML 5 app. This way, they can write for both iPhone and Android at the same time. This seems like a big win.

Although iOS and Android are very similar, both being touch-based and mobile, they are also quite different. For example:

On Android, if you want to go back to the screen you just came from, you press the physical ‘Back’ button on the device. On the iPhone, there is a standard pattern with a navigation bar on the top of your screen, where the left button is shaped like an arrow to the left, and takes you back.

On the iPhone, a tab bar on the bottom of the screen shows you the different groups of functionality in an app (e.g., in the Music app you can browse by Playlist, Artists, Songs and more). On Android, the Menu button is often used, which pops up a menu with the available options.

If you are going to write an app that looks exactly the same on both platforms, you’ll have an app that does neither feel like an Android app nor like an iPhone app. Users will have a hard time understanding it, as they have to learn how to operate your design. Don’t do it. You can still use HTML5 for parts of your app, so you can share things between iOS and Android, but especially for navigation, please use the native controls.

Of course, there is one big exception: games. It makes total sense to do it in HTML5 (if you don’t require heavy performance), so you can be on as many platforms as possible. Often games don’t need or use any of the platform’s standard controls.