Facebook ditches HTML mobe future in favour of Zuck-style JavaScript

React Native – It's JS with a hint of nutritious, ad-friendly lock-in

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Facebook has ruled out a return to platform-neutral HTML5 for mobile, dedicating itself to a future of React Native – its own JavaScript framework.

The social networking giant told journalists in London this week that it won’t be writing future mobile apps in HTML and vanilla JS.

Asked about whether it might reexamine HTML5, Facebook director of developer infrastructure David Mortenson, said: “We will write more and more of the apps in React Native – that gives us the best of both worlds."

According to Mortenson, React Native lets mobile devs iterate “really, really” quickly and be more productive.

React Native is a JS framework that was open-sourced in March, and it works with Facebook's JSX to produce native apps for smartphones and similar gadgets.

Facebook upset the web three years back when it canned a device-agnostic app strategy – founded on the then Steve-Jobs-hyped HTML5 – for a device specific plan.

Mortenson, who is the ex-Microsoft director of development for the .NET Framework, admitted the switch from HTML5 to React Native had been a challenge, but said: “It was a really big shift we had to make. We decided the phones were not yet powerful enough to have a really awesome, first-class experience for iOS and Android, so we bit the bullet.”

Back in 2012, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg reckoned his website had bet too much on HTML5, and burned two years of development. At the time, Zuckerberg reckoned he was “long-term, really excited” about HTML5. Three years on, that excitement – like Zuckerburg's statement – has been consigned to the dustbin of history.

The thinking with React Native is not "write once, run anywhere" – the old rallying cry of Java and a principle of JavaScript – but learn once, write anywhere.

Meanwhile, the great plan for an open mobile platform and market founded on platform-agnostic HTML5 is foundering against Android and iOS.

Mozilla unveiled its plans for Firefox OS and a non-native, HTML-based app store a few years back. The target wasn’t cash-rich economies and expensive handsets, but low-priced handsets in emerging markets. It announced 18 carrier partners in 2013.

Two years on, the list of carriers – like number of apps – doesn’t seem to have grown, while Mozilla's new plan is for a more expensive handset. ®

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