There's been one recurring theme among some Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) bears that they say threatens to topple its empire. Some see it as a grand equalizer of content that can disrupt proprietary architectures in favor of open ecosystems. Some think it will upend the status quo and commoditize all platforms, ruining Apple's business in the process.
Just how big of a threat is HTML5?
Credit where credit is due
Let's get one thing straight first: HTML5 does have incredibly disruptive potential. The keyword there though is "potential," which remains largely untapped right now. As the next-generation standard for building interactive websites, eventually developers will be able to create engaging content with performance that rivals that of apps built with native code for proprietary ecosystems.
Apple and Google are the two most prominent proponents of the standard. Both of are key backers of the WebKit open source browser engine that powers Safari and Chrome. As the top two mobile browsers (due to the combined dominance of iOS and Android), HTML5 is definitely a big deal in the mobile landscape.
Are we there yet?
Right now, HTML5's performance remains lacking, so the threat that it poses to Apple is not imminent. Just ask Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) Mark Zuckerberg, who went as far as to say that the social network's "biggest mistake" that it's made as a company thus far was putting too much on HTML5, a decision that was made two years prior.
The performance simply isn't there yet, which is why Facebook recently rebuilt its iOS app from scratch using native code and delivered major performance gains across the board in the process. A few months later it did the same with its Android app.
However, HTML5 continues to improve, and in the not-too-distant future, developers should be able to achieve performance parity with native counterparts. The theory goes that once all content is platform-agnostic, all devices will inherently become commoditized and Apple will no longer be able to fetch premium prices since its iDevice sales benefit greatly from how many apps are available on its platform.
Even if you accept that HTML5 and native apps will perform the same, there are still a few advantages that proprietary platforms (Apple's or otherwise) will always retain.
The first advantage is convenience. When HTML5 web apps become as good as native apps, the experience of the actual content should be largely the same regardless of platform. The only difference is that an HTML5 web app is just like any other website, while a native app will still be downloaded from the iOS App Store.
Apple has focused a lot on content discovery recently, as evidenced by its acquisition of Chomp. It's much more convenient to peruse Apple's curated catalog for something than it is to venture out into the vast reaches of the Internet.
Developers' ability to actually make money is also another aspect that history has shown favors proprietary platforms, in part due to the aforementioned convenience. Many netizens today have an aversion to paying for content on the broader Internet, while iOS users have already demonstrated a propensity to do just that. One reason is that it's just easier.
If you're on a website and willing to pay for content or services, most of the time you have to go find your wallet or purse, dig up your credit card information, trust that website with your information, and pay for your purchase. Of course, this happens all the time, but it also doesn't happen all the time, particularly for small purchases of maybe a couple bucks. With a proprietary platform, you just enter a password and you're done.
In fact, monetization is the developers' biggest gripe about HTML5. In Appcelerator's and IDC's Q3 2012 survey of 4,700 developers, 83.4% weren't happy with HTML5 monetization. Professional developers need to make a living, and if they can make more on proprietary platforms, that's where they'll focus their efforts and users follow the content.
There's more to Apple
Beyond that, consumers don't buy iDevices purely for content availability, even though that's an important aspect of the purchasing decision. Beyond app counts, consumers also value software/hardware integration, ease of use, ongoing support, industrial design, and integration with other devices, among many others.
Even when HTML5 gets "there," it won't destroy Apple.
Fool contributor Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Facebook, and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Facebook, and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.