CIBC misheard Steve Jobs’ Comments about HTML5

More Apple/Android Junk?

I have so many things I’d like to write about – topics havingnothing whatsoever to do with Apple or Android, like IoC, ARMassembly, rational NoSQL, and of course pragmatic softwarearchitecture – but various mobile issues keep mentally demandingthat I hop up on a soapbox about them for a bit. I have to get thisout of the way.

Mobile computing is absolutely the most important realm for thisindustry over the coming decade, so pay attention to what ishappening because it really, really matters.

CIBC – Leader and Innovator, or Me-Too Wannabe?

CIBC app
The CIBC Platinum Card

CIBC, a large Canadian bank, just launched a nationwideadvertising campaign to promote their newly released iPhone banking application. You can see the videoon YouTube.

It’s notable that CIBC isn’t targeting iPhone-only venues withthese ads, which they could easily and cost-effectively do, butinstead they are promoting this during primetime Olympics coverage.They’re putting it front and center on theirwebsite.

If you caught the commercial you might have mistook it for anApple ad, given that the strongest takeaway is a subtle “there’san app for that” message, followed by the implicit declarationthat iPhone customers – a small minority of CIBC customers – arethe elite, their walled garden needing its own special flowers.

Maybe Apple subsidized the ads and the product itself. It’s alittle surprising for a large and profitable bank to look for adsubsidies, but it’s the only conclusion I can draw.

It’s either that or CIBC has an Apple fanboy wreaking havoc fromthe executive level.

In any case, big deal: CIBC makes an app for the iPhone (firstbank in Canada to do so, they proudly boast). Just servingcustomers, right?

Consider that CIBC has never offered a rich-clientWindows application for banking, which is a statement that is truefor every Canadian bank as far as I know.

They will let you download data to Quicken or Money or what haveyou, on whatever platform you’d like, but if you want to bankelectronically as an end-user the cross-platform web browser is andhas always been your electronic banking tool, even when it limitedthem to a very simplistic interface.

They knew not to fall into the ActiveX quagmire like, say,South Korea. The banks have always supported just about anymodern client equally.

Think about that for a bit: They have never directlysupported the rich interface of the overwhelmingly dominant clientplatform for PCs.

And for very good reasons.

Yet now they have special, premiere support for one far-from-dominant Smartphone.

Given that history of device and platform treatment, it’snatural to presume that they have some fantastic and compellingreason for making this change: Maybe they’re using amazing 3Dgraphics of money flow or something on the device. Maybe abreathtaking augmented reality experience that allows you tovisualize your debt load increasing when the camera is pointed atthat new must-have device you really want at the electronicssuperstore, a virtual banker sternly shaking his head no.

There must be something that they just couldn’t dowithout “going native”, right?

Nope.

Their iPhone app features shockingly basic functionality. Thesingle place where it could use something even remotely client-rich– to get the user’s location to find the nearest branch – theyscrew it up and force you to type your location in.

This Is What Web Apps Are Made For

Really HTML5
This Is An HTML5 App on the iPhone

This application was made for HTML 5, which humorouslywould easily allow them to use the Geolocation API to get the user’s current location for richerand more intuitive mapping.

And let’s give credit where it is definitely due: The iPhonefeatures excellent web app support, arguably best of class,likely because that was originally the only way to create applications for the device.

Jobs’ original vision was that the phone would offer a nativeApple experience enhanced by a rich and robust web applicationecosystem. That was the phone that they originally delivered.

That web richness allows you to make apps that look and actjust like an iphone application with some simple targetedstyles and scripting, offering rich and robust functionality andfeatures.  It also allows you to avoid going hat-in-handthrough Apple’s app review process for every update, as is demandedwhen you publish via the App Store.

So imagine a world where CIBC decided that they didn’t need tokneel in worship before Apple, trying to suck some Apple-idolizingdroppings from the dirty ground, and they’d release this as an HTML5 app.

It would feature the same look and feel, could easily supportall of the same functionality (without breaking a sweat). It wouldalmost certainly be far more maintainable, and could function likea minimized version of the web app they already have for PCs,without necessarily demanding new public-facing web serviceAPIs.

Win all around, right Well that’s just the start.

If CIBC did it the correct way – as an HTML 5 app – it wouldalso work on Android devices (including crazy features likelocal databases and geolocation and all of the snazzy dynamics),such as the hot new Milestone coming to Telus, and the anticipated Acer Liquid and SonyX10 coming to Rogers, and more importantly – this is the landof RIM – it would work on the newly revamped Blackberry webkit browser coming shortly, which isworthwhile given that Blackberry remains atop Apple in the“smartphone” category, especially here in Canada.

Remember that Apple far from dominates the Smartphone category, and competition isonly getting fiercer. Canada has never been as iPhone-crazed as theUS, and a number of compelling non-iPhone smartphones are justhitting our shores.

So if they went the HTML 5 route, they could offer a richexperience on all capable devices, easily stylable andfeature-scaling to optimize the platform experience. Anything wouldbe better than the WAPishly rudimentary “everyone else” dumpbininterface they currently support for every other mobile device.

Didn’t They Listen To Steve Jobs?

Juxtapose Steve Jobs telling us that the iPad doesn’t need Flashbecause HTML 5 makes it irrelevant – a premature statement, but thetime will come when his words will seem prophetic – withorganizations like CIBC porting absolutely rudimentary webfunctionality into native apps, wasting time and resources andcash, primarily benefiting Apple, while undermining marketplacechoice.

Very backwards move, CIBC. It doesn’t make you look hip andon-the-ball, but instead makes you look like Apple-salesmen hopingfor your little bit of me-tooism hipster credibility.

Given how boastful CIBC is about being the first bank to featurean iPhone interface, it would be delightful to see another Canadianbank, such as my old workplace RBC, take the high road and come outwith rich and robust mobile web apps that don’t favour one walledgarden without cause.

They could show it running just as richly on a Blackberry,gaining benefit from the glow of Canadian patriotism.

A Place for Web Apps and a Place for Native Apps

While Jobs is quick to declare the end of Flash in pitching theiPad, the reality is that there are serious gaps in what HTML 5 webapps are capable of.

Graphical games, for instance, aren’t a web app reality withouteither adding Flash to the equation or going native (e.g. OpenGL onAndroid or the iPhone). Some day down the road it will be possible,but that isn’t reasonably the case right now, aside from some techdemos that make a high-end desktop grind to a halt.

Apps that exploit special features and functions of the hardwaregenerally can’t be web apps either, at least until the feature isso common and prolific that it gets baked into the sharedstandards, as geolocation has. I’m sure at some future point we’llhave “camera” and “webcam” and “DSP” APIs to access fromJavaScript, but for now those are native app domains.

Mr. Jobs’ statement could more honestly be worded as “Flashisn’t necessary when you have HTML….and apps from the AppleApp Store”.

Platform specific apps are needed for a lot of solutions. Thatgoes without saying.

Still, porting absolutely rudimentary functionality to nativeapps is a backwards repeat of mistakes made in the past, wallingthe garden off for no logical reason.

CIBC is hardly alone in making this foolish, foolish move, butgiven that they seem to be so proud of this mistake they deserveparticular criticism.

So You Own An iPhone and You Don’t See The Problem

Hanging with My Youngest
My Youngest Doesn’t Have an iPhone…yet

Even if you own an iPhone, and you happily imagine a world whereyour children’s children will have iPhones, you should still viewmoves like CIBCs with intense cynicism.

Not only are they limiting your choice unnecessarily ifyou ever decide to consider alternatives (as everyone should alwaysbe doing), even if you’ve declared fealty to Apple forever and everthe movements of organizations like CIBC are diminishing Apple’sneed to be competitive.

Recall what happened to Internet Explorer after so much of theweb (outside of Canadian banks, notably) decided that they wouldtreat IE users as first class citizens, everyone else ignorablechumps. Once that lock-in was established Microsoft had littleincentive to work on their browser and they took their users forgranted. We’re still trying to pull ourselves out of that mistake.

Apple isn’t Microsoft, but by the end of 2010 they will likelyexceed Microsoft’s market capitalization, which is absolutelyshocking. Corporate sludge is inevitable at some point. Ifsomething happens to Steve Jobs, for instance, and they recruitBallmer to run the place, you might decide to consider alternativesonly to find that you’re tied to the platform in a thousandseemingly minor but cumulative ways.

Competition is good. Building up the walled-garden of the iPhoneundermines competition, and encourages a foolish Windowsificationof the mobile world.