If you build it, will they come? The HTML5 distribution problem

Nov 28, 2013
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6a0120a85dcdae970b0120a86d72d7970bFor better or worse, HTML5 obliterated the technical barriers to entry to creating applications. As the barriers came down, many developers tried to strike gold in the app Eldorado and the market became saturated.  The initial focus turned towards monetization of the apps, which made sense as the ecosystem was growing.  At last year’s Mobile World Conference there were countless companies offering different monetization programs to ride the wave, however, the chatter amongst the developers highlighted that the new challenge, in terms of HTML5 applications, laid a step further. The deeper challenge is moving to the distribution layer and 2014 should see a rise in companies trying to solve the issue.

Native developers can leverage their favorite’s OS marketplaces.  iOS apps can only be sold on the Apple’s marketplace and most android users turn to Google when looking for the latest and greatest apps even though a few other places will let you purchase Android applications.

For companies building “pure” HTML5 applications the challenge is much different.  How will their apps be discovered on the open web?

The discovery process for HTML5 app is extremely difficult because of the lack  of well-known sites where you can find apps. Don’t fool yourself in thinking “what about Facebook’s App Center or the Mozilla Marketplace”; Very few customers know about these places. The bulk of your customers aren’t even aware that these sites exist.

Given these challenges, what can happen to help developers to distribute their apps?  In a margin-thin market where each step has to be optimized, making sure that your app can be seen by the greatest numbers of prospects will be key for growth.

At first sight, there are 2 main options:

  • Being an expert at growth hacking, social media, and collaboration to drive traffic towards their page.  This is the most direct approach though probably the costliest one in terms of efforts.
  • Putting the app on one of the burgeoning HTML5 market places and hope, just hope, that this marketplace becomes established enough to drive enough eye-balls (and wallets) to the app.

The second option is the most viable one for companies with limited resources. Think of the brick and mortar world: If you sell produces, you could try to push your wares from the side of the road (with the proper banners + ads to get cars to stop of course!) or you can rent a stand at the local, famous, marketplace.

The marketplace is then in charge of driving-in visitors so they can peruse your product.
Using this framework in the digital world, large e-commerce vendors are poised to get the bulk of the market with Amazon being the obvious player in this field once their new HTML5 + app market is out in full force.  Microsoft, Google, and facebook will undoubtedly make a push as well and promote the use of their own market places (likely by encouraging API integration…)

Amidst these large vendors, a few ones are taking a third, intriguing, route towards helping developers publish their apps.  Those vendors offer a “all-in-one” experience where developers can code, test, and push their applications in one system in one click.

Intel is trying this approach with their new Xdk but they are not alone in taking this hybrid approach. An intriguing company in this sector is Ludei.   Ludei is the maker of  CocoonJS, a tool that powers HTML5 applications.  Ludei recently announced that it’s powering the games in Nickelodeon’s upcoming Android app.

The group at “The Lost Decade” was kind enough to show me some of the games they created using Cocoon and it’s fair to say that when used properly, HTML5 can be a great conduit for games.

What is enticing in their offer is that you can develop an app using their framework and they know that you will deploy to an environment where you app can quickly be discovered.  If those vendors can couple this with sturdy, real-time, ad-networks and analytics, then developers will have very compelling reasons to use their tools.

For these vendors the challenge will be to constantly update their offering so that developers do not have to limit their creativity or limit themselves to specific technologies, which will put a lot of strain on newer companies to secure the staff with the right skills.

How are you tackling the distribution challenge in your app?