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What is HTML5

Posted on March 11, 2011 in Articles, Custom Web Development

HTML5 is the next major revision of the Hypertext Markup Language, which forms the backbone of every site on the World Wide Web.  Currently under development, its immediate predecessors are HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.1.  HTML5 adds new features that bring high levels of interactivity and media integration to websites that were previously only possible through browser plugins like Flash, Silverlight or Java.  Today’s modern browsers supporting HTML5 can render feature-rich websites without the need of these intrusive and processor-intensive add-ons.

Why a New Standard

In the last couple of years, the evolution of the web platform has accelerated.  In 2008 the iPhone was a real game-changer, in 2009 modern browsers – Safari 4, Opera, Firefox 3 and Chrome increased web capabilities, and even up to recently the Android and other mobile devices have given people a whole new array of means and uses for the web.  Web applications have started to reach the level of what native applications can do that more and more users rely on them.
As these trends come together – increasing fidelity of web applications, a greater number of open source browsers, onslaught of mobile web devices, and faster javascript – it sets the stage to which a new standard, HTML5 is needed to deliver a better web experience than its predecessors.
What’s interesting is as the web keeps getting better and better, it has presented key challenges for developers.  These challenges are what HTML5 is aiming to solve – having improve graphics support, being able to tie locations into web applications, storage, cloud computing, and faster websites.

What HTML5 Offers

Canvass/SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)
Until recently HTML didn’t provide tools to draw on the web and graphics didn’t interface too well with javascript to make them fully interactive.  The usual work around to render interactive graphics is through the use Flash or Silverlight but even if they did the trick fairly well, they weren’t seamlessly merging with the website’s overall content.

The new capability of HTML5 allows graphics to be an inherent part of the web, neatly tying them in with the rest of the content.  HTML5’s rendering tools, Canvass and SVG are embedded into the web platform – they are part of HTML, part of the Document Object Model (DOM), they can fit into CSS and HTTP.

This allows HTML-like tags for drawing. Graphic rendering, animation and interaction are made through markup.  Scalable vector graphics stay sharp and legible whether they are being viewed on a 20-inch monitor or a small iPhone screen.  As a result, images are information dense, highly interactive and dynamic – features that are lacking in static images.

Video on the web has been complicated and outside the realm of HTML.  Since video is highly demanded content it is about time to make it a basic part of the web platform.  HTML5 makes embedding <video> as easy as adding an <img> tag and will play videos without the need for plugins.  Video is now pretty straightforward with HTML5.

Geolocation is also a native function of HTML5. It identifies real-world geographic location of a web application user.  Geolocation data includes country, region, city, zip code, latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates and timezone.  It is especially useful for CRM systems, gives more power for social applications, Ads, Business Search and even Games when combined with Augmented Reality.

APP Cache and Database
As more web users are going mobile there is a huge need for web applications to work both online and offline.  The HTML5 Database and App Cache store user data and app resources locally allowing unhindered use of web apps even in the absence of a network connection.

Web Workers
Since HTML5 means more power to developers there is a tendency to use too much javascript to create full featured web applications.  This scenario can freeze the browser and ruin user experience.  Web workers job is to define an API for running background scripts.  Instead of the javascript running on the same thread as the user interface, web workers run scripts in the background without slowing down the browser.

Are We There Yet?

The HTML 5 specification is a working draft and yet, thanks to modern browsers, users are most likely taking advantage of it without knowing.  Chrome, Safari 4, Firefox 3.6 and Opera already supports a lot of HTML5’s core features.  Many Google products already use some HTML5 features.  Websites with the claim “iPad ready” are making extensive use of this new protocol – that includes The New York Times, CNN and CBS.
Finally, as mobile web devices increasingly become ubiquitous, the challenge for web application developers is to maximize app distribution to as many platforms as possible. Many of them will turn to HTML5 to accomplish the goal.