HTML5 is a language for structuring and presenting content for the World Wide Web, a core technology of the Internet. It is the fifth revision of the HTML standard (originally created in 1990 and most recently standardized as HTML4 in 1997 and as of June 2011 still under development). Its core aims have been to improve the language with support for the latest multimedia while keeping it easily readable by humans and consistently understood by computers and devices (Web browsers, parsers etc.)
HTML standards are co-developed by the WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) as well as the W3C World Wide Web Consortium.
There are a few enhancements that make HTML5 particularly cool:
- Offline storage or caching
- Access to phone camera and sensors
- Audio-video streaming
Experts are calling 2011 the year of the mobile Web app1
HTML5 is used in the same breath as “Web 2.0”; essentially it is the promise of rich and engaging applications on Web and mobile (including tablets) which puts it in direct comparison (competition?) with Flash® & native apps2, 3 ,4.
It should be noted that HTML5 is in a “work-in-progress” stage with standards expected to be frozen by 2014!5
The overall development in HTML5 is in sync with the W3C goals
- Principles – Web for all, Web on everything
- Vision – Web of consumers and authors, data and services, trust
Let us have a quick overview of the battlefront:
HTML5 video has seen an amazing growth as 63% of all videos on the Web are now HTML5-compatible, compared to only 10% just a year ago (according to video-sharing site Mefeedia6). Instead of relying solely on Flash to display their videos, many more websites are adopting video formats that can run directly in HTML5-compatible browsers.
Flash was once the de facto standard for rich and engaging applications or websites. However, there are increasingly cases of erstwhile Flash-only websites joining the HTML5 bandwagon (e.g. Pandora®)7, 8. As a result, the HTML5 vs Flash debate is likely to continue for some more years!9
Some of the benefits of HTML5 over Flash include:
- Share site URLs
- Faster site loading
- Video/music streaming and similar Flash experience
- Cross-device and platform functionality built on open standards
- SEO friendly
- There are Flash-to-HTML5 conversion tools released by leading browser companies ... which is expected to increased adoption of HTML510
Flash proponents maintain that every standard has its own benefits11:
- 85% of the top 100 websites use Flash player
- 70% of Web games are based on Flash
- 98% of Internet-connected PCs have Flash
- 1.2 billion phones are Flash-capable
- HTML5 vs Flash test results show that Flash isn’t necessarily a CPU hog; HTML5 performs even worse at times!12
Flash fans point out that HTML and Flash can coexist as the Web evolves13. Since Flash and HTML5 are essentially tools for Web developers, many experts propose coexistence between the two14, 15. It is interesting to note that Adobe has mentioned support for HTML5 as well as Flash16, so it is possible that the so-called battle between Flash and HTML5 may not even happen!
With divergent smartphone devices and platform fragmentation, developers will increasingly face challenges developing/porting apps for different OS and devices. This obviously increases the cost of app creation.
HTML5 fans point to the potential of HTML to replace native apps: 17
- Most of the modern browsers (including smartphone and increasingly feature phone browsers) have HTML5 support
- HTML5 offers a Web and mobile convergence, a “buy-once-use-anywhere” freedom for users
- There are more Web developers available for building an app. This translates into reduced app development costs. Newer platforms and APIs offer native app-like functionality with HTML5 with reduced development time.18
- Go direct to customer without necessarily going through an app store. This is of specific interest to media brands. HTML5 apps give them complete freedom, without having to wait for an approval process.19
- HTML5 Web apps are searchable by browsers, i.e., they are SEO friendly
- Initiatives like the Wholesale Application Community (WAC), which provides an opportunity to mobile operators to get in the apps game, enhance the development of Web apps 20
- The native apps vs. Web apps (HTML5) debate is really about the rich set of native phone functionalities that the native app can access. With the HTML5 feature set ever increasing, this gap is closing by the day.
Native app enthusiasts point that the current statistics show that mobile apps are used more than the smartphone browsers. A recent Zokem-GSMA report indicates that Web browsing, with 422 monthly usage minutes, is significantly lower than the 667 monthly usage minutes for apps.21 22
HTML5 app may not be suitable for all use case scenarios, but neither are native apps.
However HTML5 is an evolving standard, as illustrated below:
- Fragmented standards evolution – W3C and WHATWG are evolving standards in parallel20
- Fragmented HTML5 implementation across mobile browsers. What works on one browser need not necessarily work on other browsers. Developers face a challenge: “Which is the baseline browser?” 23
- HTML is a technology change; the necessary business models are not ready20
- Expect patent battles as players move to patent things that put them in conflict with W3C 24
So even if the answer may seem as simple as, “Should I focus on HTML5?”, the answer, as we see, is not! 25
Perhaps coexistence of these “conflicting” technologies and a multi-pronged, a.k.a., hybrid approach is advised. With evolving technologies and standards, it is better to focus on the customer and incorporate the best of HTML5, native apps and Flash functionalities as many companies are already doing! 26