In his first public interview since Facebook’s IPO, CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that making big bets on HTML5 for its mobile apps was a “big mistake.”
Facebook was one of the first major companies to embrace HTML5 — not just as the basis for its mobile web experience, but also for its apps for iOS and Android.
That focus was based on the idea that HTML5 would be an easy way to develop for multiple platforms and screen sizes at one time, and that the overall experience would be similar to a native app. It did not account for stability or speed.
“The biggest mistake we made as a company was betting too much on HTML5 as opposed to native,” Zuckerberg said in an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt. “It just wasn’t ready,” he added.
Facebook has been focused on HTML5 for the last two years. When questioned about the lack of an official Facebook iPad app back in 2010, Zuckerberg famously responded, “the iPad isn’t mobile” — before clarifying that the company (then) saw HTML5 as a much better solution for delivering the Facebook experience to tablets.
In 2011, Facebook’s CTO Bret Taylor said HTML5 played a critical role in creating a consistent user experience across Facebook’s mobile sites and apps.
But the benefits of cross-platform development weren’t enough to outweigh the downsides of HTML5, which pulls in data much more slowly than native code, and is much less stable.
“It turns out, ‘good enough’ wasn’t good enough,” Zuckerberg said of the company’s HTML5-based mobile apps.
That would be why Facebook completely overhauled its iOS app last month.
Now, Zuckerberg says, Facebook is focused on continuing to improve the native mobile experience on iOS, as well as bringing a native app to Android.
Since the company had to spend so much time building its systems to process data efficiently for mobile apps, Zuckerberg implied that Facebook had lost time it could have spent focusing on bigger and better app developments.
Indeed, the mobile-first nature of Instagram was likely the most valuable aspect of the service, from Facebook’s perspective. Instagram offered one clear vision of what could be built with a native app approach.
This isn’t to say that Facebook won’t continue to do some work with HTML5, especially on its mobile website for non iOS and Android devices. Just don’t expect the company to get on the “write once, run everywhere” bandwagon again.