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YouTube mobile play confirms HTML5 threatens apps

A recent announcement from mobile video community YouTube Mobile proves that HTML5 just might mean the demise of applications.

YouTube is revamping its mobile site at, making its mobile application obsolete. This move further validates industry speculation that HTML5, along with better processors and cloud services, might just mean the demise of applications.

"YouTube today sent a clear signal to the market that the mobile brower is maturing," said said Gary Schwartz, president/CEO of Impact Mobile, New York. "Developers need to take heed. It is natural that Google should lead this inevitable trend. Apple is still defending its app-dom, a major part of its iPhone marketing strategy.

" is the future of the mobile phone," he said. "Apps are moving to the super app: the mobile browser. It happened on the desktop from widgets to browser. Now we are seeing this in an accelerated fashion with mobile thanks to HTML5."

Mr. Schwartz said that the Web application is comparable to the native application and it has a better user interface and video quality.

Most importantly, it cuts through the highly fragmented phone market working on any HTML5-compliant mobile browser, including iPhone and Android.

"And because the browser is not within Apple's iAd white picket fence, it has more advertising revenue options," Mr. Schwartz said. "Contest over."

HTML5 ? App killer?
Many industry experts feel that applications will become redundant in a 4G world.

After all, what is the point of applications, when a brand can just build an HTML5 Web site and consumers can store it as a bookmarked icon on the iPhone?s home screen?

"The latest generation of mobile applications taught consumers that they can do more with their phones than just talk and text,? said Saj Cherian, principal at Valhalla Partners, Vienna, VA. ?Mobile phones now offer a utility for us to better interact and transact.    

?Apps have proliferated primarily to address the shortcomings of device processing power and network bandwidth,? he said. ?As faster smartphones gain mass adoption, 4G networks are stood up, and more processing is done in the cloud, we will go back to the Web. 

?We will get the rich user experience we have come to know via apps by merely browsing the Web. HTML5 will be a catalyst as well as a host of other enabling technologies, such as better browsers and cloud-based services.?

Games, may be the exception, as they are both more processing intensive and better merchandised and monetized via application store downloads.  

But, all those other applications that are ?much thinner in terms of ambition and functionality? will migrate to the Web.

Not everyone agrees that HTML5 means the demise of applications.

?No, I don?t think HTML5 means the demise of mobile apps,? said Neil Strother, Kirkland, WA-based practice director at ABI Research. ?Some things are just done better through an app, like a game or some content that is resident on the device that makes access quick and doesn?t require a call to a Web site.

?What we?ll see is both: a brand will provide a good mobile application for content or specific services that can take advantage of certain devices (Android, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry), and a good mobile site that allows for anyone with a mobile browser to visit and have a good experience,? he said.

?So, the point is that brands need to do both.?

Customization is a value of applications that cannot be replicated on the mobile Web because mobile sites cannot track cookies.

Additionally, only applications can take advantage of phone features such as the camera and the accelerometer.

?The future will bring, via HTML5 and Web apps, better, faster more integrated mobile sites,? said Jason Taylor, vice president of mobile products at Usablenet, New York. ?Usablenet's platform, for example, will leverage these technologies to create app-like interfaces.

?However, many phone features like camera are not available at the browser or HTML5 level, so there will always be need for specific tool-like apps as well,? he said.

In the end it will all lead back to specific brand goals.

For some brands a mobile application may be the answer and for others an HTML5-based Web site might be the way to go.

"HTML5 will not bring on the demise of apps but I do think that you are going to see a fleshing out of what you are seeing on the App Store and more selective types of apps," said Steve Timpson, president of Siteminis, Atlanta. "Companies will use apps for branding and fun things that need the native operating system.

"HTML5 will make it more practical to do Web design," he said. "It will always be a competitive race between the Web and apps. But I do believe that the Web will take over the commerce piece." 

YouTube?s mobile play
YouTube is the world's largest online and video community. Marketers are able to find virtually any audience they want to target and create innovative advertising and video content that allows the community to interact with their brand.

Brands and marketers are increasing sales and exposure for their companies in many different ways using YouTube. In some cases they run video advertising, like InVideo Ads or YouTube video ads, but they are also sponsoring contests, creating brand channels, and adding their own original content to the PC and mobile versions of the site.

According to a recent Morgan Stanley report, within five years more users will connect to the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs.

YouTube consumption on mobile devices has also grown considerably: playbacks were up 160 percent in 2009 over the previous year.

YouTube Mobile now receives more than 100 million video playbacks a day. This is roughly the number of daily playbacks that was streaming when it joined forces with Google in 2006.

YouTube Mobile launched in 2007 with about 1,000 videos available on the mobile site.

The site opened up the concept of accessing video on the go. However, the site, mobile browsers and the hardware had limitations that prevented the mobile experience from keeping up with YouTube on the desktop.

?Today, more than ever, we know that you want to be able to find and access your favorite videos wherever you are,? said Andrey Doronichev, product manager at YouTube, San Bruno, CA. ?That?s why we?re rolling out an updated version of the mobile site."

The new version of the mobile site is really fast and the user interface incorporates larger, more touch-friendly elements, making it easier to access videos on the go. 

The site incorporates the features and functionality such as search query suggestions, the options to create playlists, the ability to designate ?favorite,? ?like? or ?unlike? videos directly from a device.

YouTube?s mobile site is available in English only, but will be rolling it out in other languages in the coming months.

?As we make improvements to, you?ll see them quickly follow on our mobile site, unlike native apps which are not updated as frequently,? Mr. Doronichev said. ?As the world continues to go mobile, we think this is a great improvement for users who want a more consistent YouTube across many devices, no matter where they are.?

Here is a demo of the new mobile site:

Final take
Mobile Marketer?s senior editor Giselle Tsirulnik