Is Pinterest’s HTML5 app short-changing users?

It seems you virtually can’t move online without running into an article on Pinterest. As a platform, it’s certainly captured people’s (or at least the blogosphere’s) imagination. Core to the attraction is just how easy it makes sharing the stuff we all find every day on the web.

To its credit, Pinterest has taken a decidedly mobile first approach to developing the site – they understand that people find stuff on the move and want to share it instantly. They have a smart IOS app which gives all the functionality of the site and makes good use of the limited screen real estate. But at the same time they admit that they are lagging behind in developing a similar app for other platforms.

So, in a post on the Pinterest blog, they’ve recently announced a new HTML5 mobile version of the site which delivers a fair amount of the features most users need:

What we’re launching today is a streamlined experience for iOS and Android. You can view pins and boards, look at profiles, follow people and of course, repin all the things you find. In the coming weeks, we’ll be adding the ability to search and browse by category, edit pins, and create new boards. Support for other touch based devices like Windows Phone 7 and Blackberry will be coming soon. Of course, we’ll be fixing bugs as we find them as well.

All well and good. Until that is you take a look at the comments on the post. This, apparently, is not what users want – not at all e.g:

A mobile version is not the same as an app. An Android App is definitely needed.

The question, of course, is why?

From where I’m standing there are a number of issues:

  • These days, good enough just isn’t good enough for many users – not when it’s so easy to see what they’re missing out in comparison to a native app
  • There is still a perception that web apps are second class citizens – a lingering hangover from the days of WAP
  • Companies seem to think that HTML5 is the cheap alternative to developing a native app – this leads to them assigning too little budget and making some unavoidable compromises
  • And, for their part, developers typically have less experience developing apps in-browser

It doesn’t have to be this way. The work that the likes of the FT and Lanyard have done on their HTML5 apps is outstanding. They deliver an utterly comparable experience to a native app. So it’s certainly possible.

Of course, Pinterest’s effort is a work in progress. As they put in their post, more features are coming. So it remains to be seen whether they can deliver and turn the criticism on its head. If they can, they’ll gain an easy to update app that runs across multiple devices. If not, they may find their time in the sun comes to a premature end.

Published by thebeebs

Martin works for Oracle as a Developer Evangelist. He’s been a developer since the late 90s and loves figuring out problems and experimenting with code.