The HTML5 Evolution – What’s in store for the future?

HTML5, the latest version of the HTML language, built using web-standard HTML, CSS and JavaScript, is currently supported on the three biggest leading platforms — iOS, Android and RIM as well as mobile operating systems such as Ubuntu, Firefox OS and Tizen, HTML5 is a developer’s dream, levelling the playing field, thus throwing open the doors to a wealth of developmental talent, however could it prove to be a game-changer in the mobile apps space as it was once touted to be?

First, let’s get some facts straight before laying the cards on the table:

What’s Right and Wrong With HTML5:

For any mobile app, the final word is its anticipated return on investment. Developers have been lured into HTML5 app building primarily due to the significant reductions in development cost and faster deployment times — by merely re-writing sections of the native code for different platforms, and dedicating their resources to develop the Web component, cross-compatibility can be achieved while leveraging device specific features. Developer surveys confirm that despite the proliferation of mobile apps, web applications, websites and SQL-connected applications dominate developer efforts so far. This also conveniently coincides with the need to support more browsers on a wide range of screen sizes from desktops to phablets. The wealth of developer knowledge in web-based applications is key to the growth of apps based on HTML5.

At this juncture, besides development speed and cost, there are a few other considerations that will affect ROI when a mobile app is developed. The most critical are user experience, tooling support, and operability. These issues are the reason why HTML5 gave a lackluster performance leading to ultimate failure when employed to develop important mobile applications. LinkedIn went from mobile web-based version of its app to a fully native version due to lack of tooling support when using desktop tools for mobile devices. Data storage is also an important factor – the web-based app runs out of memory and performance tools that provide such runtime diagnostics are lacking. Facebook followed suit, retreating from HTML5 code for its iOS app and has gone native citing performance issues. This goes on to reveal how speed, consistency and experience quality are tremendously weighted in contrast to the flexibility of web-based coding.

On another slumping note for HTML5, university research portrays the HTML5 based apps on smartphones as vulnerable. Malicious code can be injected through common channels such as Wi-Fi scanning, SMS messaging, Bluetooth pairing, as well as playing MP3 audio or MP4 video. Moreover, if access to the address book is granted, the code can be sent to the device’s contacts through SMS.

Despite these shortcomings, HTML5 proponents argue that it’s still the most interoperable format in the industry capable of providing sufficient function and performance for almost all kinds of applications. For some applications that demand extraordinary performance or specialized platform requirements, a broader set of APIs and tooling support could enable a workaround. For some companies, HTML5 can make sense when the latest APIs, constant connectivity or access to all the devices’ hardware is not a priority.

State of Development: Where is HTML5 the Right Fit?

Developers today are using HTML increasingly for both mobile apps and for desktop apps specifically for platforms like Chrome and Windows 8. It is fast gaining traction within the online gaming development community. Mozilla teamed up with Goo Technologies (Goo platform consisting of Goo Engine – a 3D JavaScript gaming engine entirely built on WebGL/HTML5 – and Goo Create – a visual editing tool running on top of the engine) to set up a game creator challenge. Ludei, the founders of CoccoonJS have partnered with Nickelodeon to create games and content across multiple platforms.

Financial services-focused software developer OpenFin has raised $4million in investment to leverage HTML5 to update the financial services industry’s technology infrastructure. OpenFin banks on Google’s Chromium open-source project allowing HTML5 applications to provide a native desktop experience in a highly secure and managed runtime environment.

Apart from these two emerging niches for HTML5, developers are using the web-based tool to build apps for productivity and utility targeting consumers predominantly.

The Verdict: HTML5 Not a Cure-All

The debate boils down to one key difference between the web experience and the mobile experience – the web is best at providing dynamic data, and native apps are best suited for interface and interactivity. The best apps will weave both seamlessly for a rich user experience.

Some developers are opting for a strategic solution by building one app for their target platform in native code while using HTML5 or cross platform tools to launch the app in the desired-but-not-targeted platforms. The industry contends that as hardware grows powerful, and JavaScript matures, web app performance will improve. Even while cross-platform frameworks and tools exist, the tool support ecosystem is not in place to build a consistent experience across all platforms.

Today, developers want to launch their apps on a phone, tablet or as a web application on a browser. Tomorrow, the focus could shift to an interactive television, automotive infotainment systems or even the Internet of Things. While there is some contention in the industry over what kind of apps will feature on wearable technology and what implications it might have on the HTML5 versus native code debate, most of the theories proposed are speculative at best. Only newer and updated versions of applications and platforms will reveal how HTML5 can make a difference thus rendering the technology an incredibly important part of the future.

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  • It’s great to know that HTML5 has wide support on mobile and diverse platforms. Look forward to have further improvement on mobile gaming to achieve better user experience.

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