October 25, 2010, 10:00 AM

Will HTML5 push apps down the totem pole?

The new markup language will boost the m-commerce site experience.

Lead Photo

Carol Steinberg of ShopNBC.com has her eye on HTML5 for mobile commerce.

I was talking today with a forward-thinking e-retailing executive: Carol Steinberg, senior vice president of e-commerce, marketing and business development at ShopNBC.com. She and I have kept in touch for some time on the subject of mobile commerce. Today she echoed words from her presentation at last week’s Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Forum. Here is what she had to say:

“We’re really keen on ROI and making sure what we’re investing in the mobile platform is a worthwhile and good investment. I am just starting to feel that HTML5 will be able to give us the functions we need on our m-commerce site versus app development for the iPhone and Android, which means three platforms we have to maintain and upgrade. And with apps you have to incentivize and encourage your customers to download and use the app. Shoppers know our brand and, significantly, our URL. Their first instinct is to go to the web site based on our URL rather than downloading an app. And if I can get the functionality I need through HTML5 and only have to manage one mobile platform, the site, I think that’s better for our business and better for our customers. We’re going to look closely at HTML5 and then decide where we’re going to go.”

HTML5 is a relatively new Internet markup language that holds great promise for mobile commerce, and the mobile web in general. Why? Because it can enable mobile sites to do things that until now only mobile apps could do. For example, it can reach into a smartphone and employ some of the device’s more advanced features and functions, such as the GPS system. Another example: HTML5 enables sites to cache data. So, the site can cache page elements in the browser on the device, reducing the amount of future web server calls required to render pages, which means greatly enhanced site performance that rivals that of an app.

HTML5 holds great promise. It will only be after we see a number of sites using HTML5 that we can judge whether apps have something to worry about. But if you’re in m-commerce today, or preparing to jump in but can’t decide between a site or an app, or both, you should bone up on HTML5 quick. It has the potential to change your mobile strategy. Just ask Carol at ShopNBC, who soon has some big decisions to make.

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