An HTML5 FAQ for publishers
There’s been a lot of news to absorb lately about HTML5, the emerging standard for website creation and, increasingly, web application development. We’ve boiled it down here into a quick FAQ, with plenty of links for anyone thirsting for more detail.
What is HTML5?
HTML5 is the next generation of HTML and XHTML, the industry standard technologies for website design. HTML5 incorporates many features that web browsers have supported for many years but have never been formally standardized or have been available only through plug-in technologies such as Flash or Shockwave.
Mark Pilgrim’s “Dive into HTML” e-book offers one of the more comprehensive overviews of HTML5.
What are the key features of HTML5 for web publishers?
HTML5 offers many new features that previously required plug-ins (or hacks), or were not available at all. Here are five that website publishers should find particularly useful:
- New semantic elements that will give developers more flexibility in defining various parts of a document
- A video element for embedding video on a web page without a plug-in requirement
- A geolocation API that will enable users to share their location (tracked through their access device)
- Offline web applications, which will enable users to access web apps and documents from their browser even if a network connection is unavailable.
Who supports HTML5?
As an emerging web standard, HTML5 has garnered support from all the major browser vendors, which are adding HTML5 features at varying rates. Google (Chrome) and Apple (Safari) are the two most aggressive adopters of HTML5 features, followed by Opera and Firefox. Microsoft recently previewed HTML5 in Internet Explorer 9, a forthcoming upgrade of its browser.
Keep in mind that while HTML5 is a quote-unquote standard, each browser developer will add its own tweaks to distinguish from competitive offerings. Apple and, to a lesser extent, Google are already taking some heat for launching HTML5 “showcase” sites that demonstrate HTML5 functionality that is optimized for their individual browsers. As Ars Technica points out, this raises issues about the difference between truly open standards and “value-added” features that don’t work across different devices or operating systems.
What technical skills do we need to support HTML5?
What’s the deal with HTML5 vs. Flash?
HTML5 proponents believe the future of Web development should revolve around standards-based technologies such as HTML as opposed to proprietary platforms and plug-in technologies. Technologies such as Flash were developed to add functionality where older versions of HTML were lacking, such as rich media support. The problem with this plug-in approach is that Flash and other proprietary technologies are not guaranteed to work across different platforms or different browsers. Apple, of course, is the most vocal critic of Flash and has pledged not to support plug-ins in its iPhone and iPad devices.
As mobile computing takes off, cross-platform/cross-browser support is critical for publishers who want their content to be accessible from PCs, smart phones, tablets and other devices. Publishers who are investing in mobile app development or have a high percentage of visitors accessing their website from mobile devices will want to consider ramping up HTML5 efforts sooner rather than later.
HTML5 does not herald immediate obsolescence for Flash and other plug-in technologies, however. Forrester, for one, says that inconsistent implementations of HTML5 and the lack of maturity around HTML5 specs and development tools give rich-internet application (RIA) platforms a good five-year runway, at a minimum.
For the time being, there will be tradeoffs. Anthony Franco, president and cofounder of the consulting firm Effective UI, told SD Times that developers “can either build [the application] twice, or build it less,” meaning they will have to sacrifice some functionality if they abandon Flash for HTML5.
Where can I find good examples of HTML5 development?
Sean Blanda offers a recap of five cool HTML5 experiments in this post. Google and Apple have recently launched their own demo sites to showcase HTML5 features. Ellie Behling offers additional examples of media companies adding HTML5 support to their apps or websites. Among media companies, Time’s Sports Illustrated has garnered the most attention with its HTML5 iPad app, built with Wonderfactory (see Sean’s post for the demo). Conde Nast just announced Gourmet Live, a new “digital content product” built in HTML5 (demo below).
On the web, CBS Interactive is offering some episodes of “Star Trek Enterprise” on HTML5 for iPad users. CBS’s Anthony Soohoo told paidContent the effort “is a small, little experiment,” but that CBSi plans to move toward parity between HTML5 and Flash for its video assets.