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Summary:

The fragmentation of the mobile environment into proprietary development platforms threatens the overall app economy by straining the labor market, says Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire. He argues Facebook’s move away from HTML5 is driven by self-interest.

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The founder of Brightcove, a company that helps publishers distribute video and app content,  blasted the tech industry’s recent turn to proprietary development systems for mobile and called for a more standardized approach.

“Mark Zuckerberg was dead wrong, and it was shameful for him to throw HTML5 under the bus because Facebook had an outdated and poorly written hybrid app,” Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire wrote in an open letter to tech and media leaders that calls for an end to the “religious wars” on mobile platforms.

Allaire’s gripe is that companies like Facebook and Apple are abandoning support for hybrid apps which are built with much of the same code used to display a website in mobile browsers. With the hybrid approach, publishers can rely on universal HTML5 code to get their apps out quickly on multiple platforms and devices while also using some native code for features that count.

Facebook recently eschewed the hybrid approach, claiming it offers a sub-par user experience. Allaire suggests that this is a smokescreen, and that Facebook and Apple have undercut the viability of HTML5 in order to develop their own private eco-systems.

Some might accuse Allaire of sour grapes since a turn to proprietary platforms threatens Brightcove’s App Cloud service which relies heavily on HTML5. But that doesn’t make his point his less valid.

The larger issue here is about standardization. Recall that for much of the 19th century, there were no standards for everyday items like screws or lightbulb threading. Imagine if a carpenter needed a special, proprietary screwdriver for every job site? Allaire makes the same point for the app economy:

Since 1994, our industry has created millions of jobs in the web development industry.  Proprietary native platforms are limiting the available labor in the app economy, hurting our productivity. [...] Every institution on the planet wants to invest in reaching users through apps on consumer devices, but we have a deep deep labor shortage because of these religious wars.

Allaire concludes by calling for an “ecumenical” approach to end the current sectarian approach to development. His letter also points to a Brightcove blog post that sets out a longer version of his thoughts.

Update: In response to a reader request below, here is the full text of the letter:

Subject: Ending the Religious Wars over Mobile Platforms – an open industry letter
Date: November 15, 2012 3:47:48 AM PST
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Hi-

All of us are blessed to be participants in this marvelous and dynamic internet tech and app economy.  But we’re also cursed with internal strife and religious wars over mobile platform technology that are hurting our economy.  Since 1994, our industry has created millions of jobs in the web development industry.  Proprietary native platforms are limiting the available labor in the app economy, hurting our productivity.

Mark Zuckerberg was dead wrong, and it was shameful for him to throw HTML5 under the bus because Facebook had an outdated and poorly written hybrid app.

Hybrid apps as a bi-partisan solution to the religious mobile platform wars are too important to our economy.  Every institution on the planet wants to invest in reaching users through apps on consumer devices, but we have a deep deep labor shortage because of these religious wars.

Steve Jobs, god bless his soul, was also wrong — well, perhaps, just deceptive — with his Thoughts on Flash and public flogging of Adobe.  Killing support for Flash on iOS was not a benevolent move to save consumers from slow and crash-prone software, nor a resounding vote for open, HTML5 based content apps.   No, it was merely a flanking maneuver to protect Apple’s proprietary native app development model.  While Apple has gone on to deeply enhance the iOS native APIs, they’ve barely moved the needle on support for HTML5 inside of native apps.

Again, hybrid apps are essential to getting the technical economy highly productive, and that’s essential to getting the global economy more productive.

Adobe smartly acquired PhoneGap — a hybrid app development platform — to answer this corporate and industry need, but since then the technology has gone stagnant, with little innovation.

The industry needs better hybrid app platforms, and that’s what we’re doing.

On my blog, I have a lot more to say about all of this, how we got here, and what the industry and Brightcove is doing about it.  Take a look, it’s a quick read.

http://blog.brightcove.com/en/2012/11/bipartisan-solutions-ending-religious-wars-over-mobile-platforms

The industry needs all of us to make this happen.

Thanks,
Jeremy Allaire
Founder and CEO, Brightcove

(Image by WilleeCole via Shutterstock)

  1. The quest for the write once, run many solution has been around for as long (if not longer) than I’ve been in the software development profession (20+ years). Whether its the Zinc library, Java or now HTML 5 there are always trade-offs being made when you try to use a general development platform, the most prominent being you either obtain mediocre (general) results or end up writing a lot of platform specific code anyway defeating the original purpose.

    If Allaire feels that strongly that HTML 5 is the right approach, let him put his money where his belief is. Write a version of the Facebook application that has the exact same feature set as the current native Facebook application in HTML 5 and show us all how wrong they really were.

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    1. Good point. Jeremy should realize that at this point talk is cheap and the only thing that will sway devs is real proof. An exact copy of FB is asking a bit much, but even a simplified “FB newsfeed” sample app would do. The newsfeed scrolling performance is the number one reason they went native. All the brightcove demo apps I’ve seen have been crap.

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  2. I can’t find a link to this open letter. Can you point me to this – as I need to correct one little bit of history…..

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    1. Marc — in response to your comment, I’ve updated the story to post the full text of the letter.

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  3. “Some might accuse Allaire of sour grapes since a turn to proprietary platforms threatens Brightcove’s App Cloud service which relies heavily on HTML5. But that doesn’t make his point his less valid.”

    Bollocks!. He can’t accuse FB of “self-interest” while he pimps his own HTML5 “standards” based app framework. In fact he would have been singing a different tune if his own app framework was proprietary.

    Bottom-line companies care more for practical results..rather than promoting one framework or another. Its usually framework makers who launch these religious wars. I find it highly ironic though when they accuse others of self-interest.

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  4. It should be noted that Allaire made the money to start Brightcove by selling his first company which offered a proprietary web development framework called ColdFusion to Macromedia, the pioneers of proprietary web platforms and self-serving closed development ecosystems called Flash Player. Closed in the sense you paid for the platform tools and sometimes the player and only Macromedia decided what changes happened on the platform.

    That said, I agree that most of the big players in the tech market are constantly evaluating which platforms and technologies benefit their bottom line or hurt their strategic interests. I don’t think this positioning is limited to Facebook. Apple not supporting Flash, Google building Android instead of using standard Java programming, etc. the Netscape vs Active X plugin approach. Just because its run by a standards body doesn’t mean its good for all. All of these are companies with shareholders and whats best for some isn’t necessarily best for others if they hope to provide a return to their shareholders.

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  5. HTML5 or bist?? Thursday, November 15, 2012

    Super bollocks, for a long time, the facebook mobile app was written in HTML 5 and it sucked. Then they wrote native apps. If that isn’t commitment I don’t know what is.

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    1. Yeah, Facebook’s is now native but it still sucks and is still slow as hell. So perhaps the problem with their app isn’t the front end technology.

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  6. Apple’s relationship with Adobe was long and personal. Together they built a great desktop publishing system. As an editor back then, I was thrilled. Later, Adobe turned its back (certainly with Photoshop) on Apple for whatever reasons. As we know today with Google, you only get to break up with Apple once. When Apple (Jobs) regained ascendency, it was not going to put itself at the mercy of another of Adobe’s proprietary products, Flash. And didn’t Microsoft and Google join the anything but Flash proponents?

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  7. Trevor Doerksen Sunday, November 18, 2012

    Arguing for HTML 5-only approach is like arguing for VHS, when Blueray was available – that is, other than standardization it was a step backward in quality and user experience. Right now, HTML5 is both low quality (in terms of user experience) and premature in that our devices are not universally compatible. HTML 5 is useful, but not universal and not really a step forward in quality. That is not to say it can’t become the VHS of technological decade, but a tech CEO begging others to comply is like the Polaroid CEO asking people to stop using higher quality 35mm film (or Kodak CEO speaking out against digital cameras).

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  8. Mobile Application Development Companies are going to expand and make an environment of Mobile application development in whole world.

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