2014 is HTML5’s Year

It is still hard to make a sweeping prediction or even a sweeping commendation about whether it is better to have a natively developed mobile application or one that is a browser-based cross-platform. The later is facilitated by the use of HTML5 and CSS3’s inherent ability to scale to any device. The main reason that HTML5 is growing again as the best long term solution for mobile is that the concept of a “mobile web” is going away. Replacing the “mobi” web concept is being driven by the expectation of end users that whatever you deploy, whether it is website or application, will run on whatever device they have decided to use.

The browser providers have preferred HTML5 for years and they all, including Microsoft’s Explorer, are building in greater and greater support for HTML5. Built-in device interaction, native video/audio without the need for a player, the mobile browser can support whatever the user needs. These factors eventually will, according to ReadWrite’s mobile editor Dan Rowinski, cause “the mobile web to die in 2014”.

He is fairly blunt about his dislike for the early attempts at mobile web. “In 2014, the mobile Web will die. That’s right, that bastardized version of the normal Web will crawl into a shallow grave and leave us all in peace. No more websites crippled with horrible “mobile.yourawfulwebsite.com” URLs. No more reading janky websites that display way too much fine print or omit crucial features when viewed on your smartphone or tablet.”

The move towards HTML5 is not just a mobile issue either. There are a number of desktop applications and games that are now being built with HTML5 and Mozilla has already introduced its Firefox OS which is a browser-based mobile operating system also built on the principles of HTML5. YouTube rival Vimeo has completely redesigned its video player using HTML5. Brad Dougherty, a member of the Vimeo design team, provided a little background on what has changed to drive them to a pure HTML5 player:

  • Browser innovation has brought new HTML5 capabilities (full-screen viewing is now available on every major desktop browser).
  • Smartphones have gotten more powerful (and in many cases, bigger), and the variety of smartphones has increased tremendously (three years ago, when we debuted the HTML player, there were only a handful in existence.)
  • Firefox added support for H.264 on mobile, Windows, and Linux (with OS X support on the horizon).
  • The introduction of devices that support multiple kinds of inputs (e.g., touch, mouse, and pen) at the same time.

“With all these advancements, it was clear that we needed a more flexible and accommodating base for our player,” Dougherty wrote. “So we did the only thing that made sense: We rebuilt the whole thing from scratch.” And the bottom-line for users is if they have a browser that supports HTML5 that will automatically be the player used. Thanks to the use of HTML5 this means video loads faster and provides for additional features not easily built into Flash or Silverlight coded players.

And finally chip giant Intel is pushing its latest HTML5 XDK into the mainstream development community stating the goal to help HTML5 “reach its promise of a true cross-platform, responsive, run-anywhere language and run-time, and which is based on standards”.

The continued growth of HTML5 as both application platform and in web design has been slow but sure. There will still be room for more native approaches for awhile and the certain death of the mobile specific web may not happen as quickly as predicted but it is something you will need to consider when updating or building your web or next app. Expertise in both making that decision is available and many firms are excellent alternatives to more expensive in-house development or as a supplement to your existing development community.

Either way, it seems that 2014 may well be the year that sees HTML5 and its counterpart CSS3 take both the mobile and mainstream web to blend them into experiences that fly on whatever device end-users choose.