Box.net plans HTML5 apps this year

Box.net plans to develop “semi-local” apps for various mobile operating systems using a common HTML5 codebase, in a bid to keep up with the proliferation of smartphone and tablet platforms.

Box.net provides a cloud-based content management service for individuals and enterprises. Like other developers, the company has found it challenging to build apps for systems such as the Research In Motion BlackBerry and PlayBook and Cisco Systems’ Cius in addition to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, Box.net CEO Aaron Levie said in an interview at the MobileBeat conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. To solve the problem, the company is turning to HTML5.

The now-emerging Web protocol is designed to allow for Web-based applications with some offline capabilities, such as local storage. Box.net plans to write a series of “semi-local” apps partly tuned for each OS, Levie said, without giving more details. The company appears to be planning to run some code locally on the device.

Working from a common HTML5 code base will save a lot of development time, Levie said. First on the list for an HTML5-based app will be the BlackBerry OS, for which Box.net expects to make an announcement in August, Levie said.

The company’s native apps for major mobile platforms such as iOS will remain available, he said.

The winning mobile software companies will be the ones that can federate their applications across the major platforms, said analyst Bob Egan of Sepharim Group, who attended the conference. The same holds true for corporate IT departments, which are under pressure from users to make enterprise applications easy to use on whatever device an employee may bring into the office, he said.

Developing apps separately for each platform is costly in terms of both time and money, Egan said. However, he doesn’t think HTML5 is quite ready to be the alternative to this. Others have also cited weaknesses in the protocol. Companies such as Box.net are brave to use HTML5 for commercial products, he said.

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