For anyone not involved in the development of web sites and web applications, the buzz surrounding HTML5 may be a little confusing. In fact most non-web geeks would be forgiven for not even being aware there was a HTML 1, 2, 3 and 4 or any other variation. So what actually is it, how is it different to HTML-less-than-5 and why all the fuss about 5?
What is HTML5?
(from a business perspective)
Technically speaking, the advent of HTML5 is no different to that of any of its predecessors. It is the latest iteration of a defined specification, drafted by the W3C HTML working group for how web pages should technically be constructed (the links above are links to the various specifications – pretty dull stuff).
However, technicalities aside HTML5 encompasses many concepts that should be of key consideration to businesses offering or planning to offer any form of web based software. It is a reflection of the capabilities offered by modern web browsers and web-enabled devices such as smart phones and tablet computers. HTML5 offers a raft of new capabilities, interaction methods and semantics that can help realise the next generation of web application experiences.
What does this actually mean to me?
It means you have more opportunity to add greater value, reach a wider audience and improve efficiency. While that may sound like a nice sentence to put on our marketing material, we genuinely believe it to be true. Let’s qualify that though with a few more details of how:
Web access via a mobile browser vs desktop is rapidly nearing 10% (source). The modern smartphone has set an expectation for a portable, full web experience which is no longer constrained to computer desks. Best practice web development adhering to HTML5 standards accommodates for this and allows you to offer a consistent experience on both desktop and mobile browsers without duplicating efforts. Following a practice known as responsive design, your web application can respond and optimise itself to the users device and interactions. For example laying out for smaller screens or different orientations, supporting touch gestures or enabling certain enhanced functionality only available on a mobile device (such as GPS or camera).
Supporting this approach in your web application not only enables you to remain accessible to the large audience now accessing the web from their mobile phone but also to optimise the experience for their device capabilities.
Cross platform, cross browser
In the past, supporting multiple operating systems and the different web browsers available was a complex and cumbersome task (not to mention highly frustrating at times). HTML5 sees the different vendors starting to align their browser capabilities and the beginnings of parity in feature implementations. Whilst there are still quirks and differing levels of support and performance for all the features HTML5 defines, the task has become much more manageable. Additionally, many of the challenges have been overcome through the use of open frameworks created by the development community collectively reducing the compatibility headaches associated with supporting the widest possible audience.
HTML5 defines new capabilities the browser vendors need to strive to support that were previously unavailable. Utilised appropriately this could offer new features to your users or even realise completely new opportunities. More in-depth articles will be published on the Moov2 blog in the near future about each of these features but listed here is a high level overview of some of the key features:
- Offline – support for allowing users to go offline and continue working, particularly useful on devices with intermittent web connections like laptops, mobile phones and tablets.
- Local file storage – ability to store data locally such as files, typically this would entail uploading to a server which consumes bandwidth and can be slow.
- Touch gestures – ability to detect touch and multi-touch interactions when browsing on touch-enabled devices.
- Geolocation – access to the users current location allows the provision of context-aware services in your applications.
- Display – new techniques have been defined which allow for the creation of much more graphic-rich visuals and animation.
These new features will allow applications to offer opportunities to users not previously possible within a web browser. Maximising appropriate use of them can offer competitive advantage by offering features not available from your competitors. You can add value for your customers through new functionality to help them be more productive and make better use of your services. Early adoption can also offer good marketing opportunities and first mover advantage.
As well as pushing browser vendors to compete on performance, the added capabilities offered by HTML5 allow web applications to be built in such a way that they are more efficient. Improved rendering and visual display capabilities known as canvas and WebGL offer significantly improved performance for graphically intensive operations. Similarly new style animation features through CSS enables “hardware acceleration” allowing greater use of your computers hardware resources. Functionality previously only achievable through plug-ins (such as Flash) or work arounds are now supported natively thanks to HTML5 meaning the browser has to do less work so contributes to better performance for video and audio.
Greater accessibility and organisation
As well as the aforementioned fancy new tricks, HTML5 helps improve on the foundations of all web pages by providing additional semantics through which we can describe the structure of our pages. Every web page has a structure which describes its content, hierarchy of that content, elements within (such as images) and the relationships between content. As web development has evolved certain parts of this structure have been abused because nothing more appropriate was available. New features allow for documents to be better defined which is interpreted by not just web browsers but other consuming technologies such as search engines and screen readers.
HTML5 IT Requirements
The capabilities of the IT available to your users will determine how much of the specification you can offer. Not all users will have access to the full set of features defined in HTML5 as it is a continually evolving specification and the web browsers do not fully support every feature. The older your browser the less of the new features will be available. In corporate networks users typically don’t have the flexibility to install whichever browser they want so this needs to be considered when defining your requirements.
Some features will also depend on the device being used. With a modern smartphone (such as Android or iPhone) it is possible to leverage the phones GPS and offer location aware services (E.g. ‘find my nearest store’) whereas this functionality may not be available on a users desktop computer (although similar location awareness features are becoming available).
Fortunately, best practices HTML5 development allows for a technique known as progressive enhancement. This allows your web application to respond to the capabilities of the users browser and device exposing only the relevant features to them that are available. This again avoids the need to manage multiple implementations of your application to support the many different environments of users.
Get in touch
Hopefully we have provided some clarity as to what all the fuss around HTML5 is about. We’re very excited by the evolution of the modern web and are keen to help you maximise the opportunities available. Why not give us a call and see how we can help you make best use of the latest HTML5 techniques?