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Sunday, September 4, 2011

HTML5 - Beyond the Hype

HTML5 is the latest “technology” which is being hyped in the industry.  The danger with hyping a promising technology, or in this case, a programming language, is that expectations and perception become unrealistic, as the challenges and risks are ignored.   Part of the HTML5 perception, fueled by the huge growth of Apples iPad and iPhone, is that HTML5 is simply a flash player replacement.   It’s a lot more and it has implications for the web, for mobile/tablets, for gaming and for framework platforms.   Understanding the pros and cons, as well as the current state of the standard and browser implementations, and the various features of HTML5, is the key to successfully incorporating it.

The W3C HTML5 standard has been under development since the early 2000’s.   It’s not due to be finalized and tested until 2014.  At that point it will include tags and API’s for improved interactivity, multimedia and localization.  It will allow websites to behave more like rich desktop apps, incorporating video, complex interactivity and data as well as greater compatibility with multiple devices such as tablets and smartphones.  The hope is also to free reliance on plug-ins such as Flash, Quicktime and Silverlight.  The standard offers access to local storage via API's and in the case of mobile, to GPS.   This means that web based applications can achieve the same functionality and performance as native apps.   This will be a game changer in the mobile and gaming industry.

The state of browsers as it relates to HTML5 compatibility is mixed.  Although the HTML5 standard has not yet been ratified, several of its features have already been widely adopted by browsers like IE, Safari, Chrome, and Firefox.  The following web sites do a great job of detailing browser compatibility against HTML5 and CSS3 features:

A key feature of HTML5 are <video> and <audio> tags which makes the HTML5 standard codec independent (possibly because early consensus on a standard could not be achieved) but leave it to the browser vendors to standardize on codecs, which is not happening.  This is a problem. 

More than a year ago, Vimeo and YouTube announced that they were moving to support the HTML5 video tag.  Vimeo and YouTube chose to rely on the patented and ubiquitous H.264 video encoding, rather than an unencumbered encoding like Ogg Theora. This means that the <video> pages on those sites will not work with Firefox.   Vimeo and YouTube understand that reliance on proprietary plugins for video is the problem on the web. Mozilla believes that reliance on patent-encumbered formats is a problem on the web.   As usual, standards efforts inevitably spawn divergent paths to the detriment of everyone.  To help confuse the playing field, Google is supporting WebM based on VP8 compression.  In spite of this confusion, according to MeFeedia, by Feb. 2011, 63% of web videos were compatible with HTML5, primarily via H.264 video.   Having said that, Google has dropped support of H.264 from it's Chrome browser..   Confusion and battles.....

For a comprehensive HTML5 video player chart refer to this site:

Another feature of HTML5 is the Canvas Object, which allows for Flash-like animation in Javascript.    The latest browsers offer web developers a local database for caching which improves performance.   Improved forms, more sophisticated layouts are also features of HTML5.  There’s no need to wait until the full standard is ratified to adopt an HTML5 strategy but there is a need to know which elements are mature and compatible with which browsers.      The following site details 28 “must know” HTML5 features :

Several vendors are developing tools and application platforms to leverage HTML5 and in some cases provide workarounds for functionality which is not yet available via the draft standard.  An example of this is a former Apple exec who founded Strobe.  They have created a beta platform for HTML5 apps delivery on multiple platforms.  Another example is Adobe Edge which is a design tool for animated web content which leverages HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript.

It may take years before HTML5 can tackle more rigorous data processing tasks like video editing, but companies are leveraging features of HTML5 today, especially where browser support is available.   HTML5 adoption is more about evolution.  It’s coming and it will evolve over time.  Will HTML5 allow the web to supplant native applications?   We’ll see…  likely so..   Much more on this subject going forward as the landscape will grow and change over the next year.    

What are your thoughts, experience and beliefs regarding HTML5?  

The next post will provide highlights of the IBC (International Broadcast Conference) in Amsterdam from Sept. 8 through the 13th

Moving graffiti art in New York City


  1. Very interesting article which offered me clarity on HTML5. Thank you for the additional links which had some wonderful visuals and details on the core coding for HTML5.

    Based on the evolution of the Web and HTML5, what constructive steps should organizations start taking to shift their collections, applications, and processes? How do we create opportunities to adopt/apply the new model? What is the impact on individuals and on companies?

    Google has indicated that they are building their applications/tools to be HTML5 compliant. This is probably why we've started seeing a growth in new browser versions for Chrome, Firefox, etc.

  2. Very good questions Karen...thanks...
    We're seeing alot more adoption of HTML5 in the industry ( announced an HTML5 site redesign this week) even in the midst of standards chaos, different levels of browser compatibility, etc. larger due to the creativity and skill of developers such as ours, who are developing the next generation, HTML-5 based (for render) web CMS using tools such as Modernizr which offers Javascript feature detection and integrating fallback to HTML4 where the features are not supported by the browser. The impact on individuals will be the ability to consume rich content on a multitude of devices including tablets such as the iPad. The industry is behind HTML5 an driving it's adoption hard... there's still a ways to go, but innovation is leading the effort.