Home > Uncategorized > Building MommaZoo as a Mobile Web App (part 1 of 2)

Building MommaZoo as a Mobile Web App (part 1 of 2)

This post is the first in a 2-part series that relates our experience in developing MommaZoo for mobile devices on the web platform and summarizes some of the lessons we’ve learned on the way.

We knew from the start that we wanted MommaZoo to be accessible from as many devices as possible and have the widest reach possible. We wanted parents to use it on their phone while on the go, for example inviting others to join them at the playground. But also make longer forms of communication possible, like class newsletters.

So while MommaZoo’s primary platform is mobile, which nowadays mostly means iOS and Android, we also wanted to be available to laptops and desktops. We didn’t want to bet on a single proprietary platform. Allowing access from as many places and computing devices as possible motivated our choice of the web platform and developing with HTML5.

HTML5 LogoSo should you develop in HTML5 or native? Well, it depends.

HTML5 in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean much. HTML5 is a standard still under development. It’s a set of specifications at various levels of development and support. Strictly speaking, a web page can be made HTML5 by changing one line in it. So writing an HTML5 app is mainly writing against parts of a new set of specifications that form the more modern parts of the web platform.

When building for mobile, the good news is that most mobile browsers are fairly recent and actively developed. When building on the web platform, the bad news is you still have to support old browsers. IE6, one of the worst browsers still in use, is almost dead. But IE8 isn’t much better. Thankfully, obsolescence happens faster on mobile (more on that later). In MommaZoo, we’ve mitigated some of the cost of supporting inadequate browsers by using the Chrome Frame for older versions of IE. We also don’t support the oldest Android versions.

A common question is whether HTML5 is mature enough. In most cases, you just need to know about the support across browsers to know. There are many resources to help you.

But more than anything else, Javascript performance is what made HTML5 possible (before version 5, HTML specifications limited themselves to markup while it now includes Javascript APIs). Browsers are in fierce competition to be the fastest Javascript engine on the planet and a lot of developer resources are spent on it. It’s what made most rich web applications you’re using today possible.

Overall, the platform is mature enough. Most Javascript runtimes are really good. A reasonable subset of the HTML5 specifications are finalized, well-supported and well-tested. The community is large and active. But as for any platform, it doesn’t mean there aren’t sharp corners when you get close to the edges. Just try to identify those early, assess whether you can stay away or how much bleeding it could cause.

For MommaZoo, by targeting the web platform, our cost of development can be kept reasonable while still maintaining a very wide reach. Our parent demographics requires it. MommaZoo hasn’t been developed without pains however, and I’ll get into those difficulties and how to alleviate them in the next post.

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