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HTML5: Will It Ever Live Up to the Hype?

Developers like the cross-platform compatibility and users appreciate real-time access to applications via their browser,

HTML5 is the latest iteration of the standard used by web programmers and developers. When completed in 2014, it will enable developers to write-once-run-anywhere (WORA) for consistent, cross-platform experiences across all operating systems and browsers. For example, a developer could create a single application with identical performance across Facebook, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and all other mobile platforms.

Developers like the cross-platform compatibility and users appreciate real-time access to applications via their browser, without a download. By 2015, IDC predicts rapid adoption:

  • 1 billion HTML5-capable browsers in use throughout the world
  • Two million HTML web developers writing HTML5 applications
  • 80 percent of all mobile apps will be based on HTML5 to some extent
HTML5

HTML5

Unfortunately, HTML5 will first have to surmount some daunting technical and commercial challenges.

Technical Challenges: Performance varies wildly across browsers and operating systems (see html5test.com). Even the latest mobile browsers are 6-10x slower than desktops.

More importantly, “native apps” — or applications that have been written for a specific operating system (like iOS and Android) — can better leverage internal device capabilities. This includes GPS Control, PIM Integration, Accelerometor, Microphone, Vibration, Camera Control and Push Notification. As a result, HTML5 in its current form is great for applications that require limited device integration, such as text-based content. However, it is not good for complicated applications like games. To date, many of the prominent HTML5 deployments have been media properties like Financial Times and Grooveshark. However, most are like Wikipedia for Android, a hybrid approach combining HTML5 and native capabilities.

Commercial Challenges: HTML5 is still an “enabling technology.” In order to disrupt Apple and Android, it will need a vibrant ecosystem with distribution, monetization and merchandising.

Distribution: Combined, Apple and Android have over 1 million applications for sale. Other platforms, such as Symbian (60,000 apps) and BlackBerry (90,000 apps) had too few apps to be a viable alternative and are near collapse. Two players of scale could potentially help HTML5 realize extensive distribution:

  • Facebook: The world’s largest social network is now at 40 percent mobile page views and desperate to dominate the mobile landscape. In May, they launched their own store for social apps called AppCenter, in which Facebook login is a requirement to be listed. As of July, AppCenter saw 150 million monthly users. Like Apple and Android, Facebook AppCenter takes 30 percent of revenue for apps purchased on the site. It also lists applications available for iOS and Android, referring people to the Apple App Store and Google Play more than 170 million times in July.
  • Mozilla / Telefonica: Called “Boot2Gecko,” Mozilla and Telefonica are developing an HTML5 operating system that gives web apps access to native functionality like location and address book. The OS removes much of the middleware and device software, helping to lower handset costs. The first launch will be this year at Telefonica’s Brazilian unit, Vivo.

Monetization: Mozilla Marketplace is a platform and device-independent store for webapps that went live in July. It currently includes 200 web-based desktop apps that can be installed on Windows, Mac or Linux machines. However, it may be extremely difficult for the Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organization, to create an ecosystem of available devices AND an App Store at the scale to compete with Apple and Android.

For its part, Facebook is clear about its preferred monetization strategy: targeted advertising. By requiring Facebook login for all apps listed on AppCenter, Facebook assures their ability to do targeted advertising across the social web. This model should work extremely well for Facebook. However, it is not clear how app developers will generate enough revenue from advertising to prioritize developing in HTML5.

Merchandising: Few people realize that Apple Stores have the highest revenue per square foot of any physical retailer in the United States. Similarly, iTunes is the number one music seller in the US for five consecutive years. In contrast, Mozilla is a non-profit foundation with no retail experience. Facebook’s first foray into retail, the Facebook Credits payment service, was not very successful; it is being transitioned to local currency. To create a compelling alternative to the Apple and Google ecosystems, HTML5 will need to find a retail champion.

Despite the business challenges, developers are flocking to HTML5. In addition to US companies like Scribd and SlideShare, some interesting Israeli examples include Wix, Conduit, Everything.me and CET.

Wix provides the hammer and tools for non-technical people to build their own websites. The company, which has raised nearly $60 million to date, does not view HTML5 as a buzzword for the ‘future’ of the web; it is very much the present. The company launched an HTML5 platform in March that has helped create more than one million HTML5 websites and made Wix http://www.wix.com/html5/getinspired)">a key facilitator of HTML5 adoption.

Avishai Abrahami is Wix’s co-founder and CEO. “Real market-change will result from start-ups and independent developers that are quick to experiment and adopt new technologies,” Abrahami said. HTML5 is an evolving standard, and its development process requires investing many resources. Companies should, however, take on this challenge, and consider it a long term investment. Guaranteeing a good and consistent user experience across platforms and devices is crucial. Being a cross-platform language, HTML5 provides an advanced solution and amazing opportunities to add a real “wow” effect to web applications.

Conduit provides online and mobile toolbars, application tools and social layers for 260,000 companies, including Groupon, Fox News, Major League Baseball and The Weather Channel. Earlier this year, the company was valued at $1.3 billion after a $100 million investment by JP Morgan. Their mobile product incorporates HTML5 extensively and allows customers to build, edit and amend their application through a simplified control panel. Mobile Group Manager Eran Zinman, recommends “using fallbacks for browsers that still don’t fully support HTML5. Usually we develop once but still need to optimize code for each platform. Optimizing and fixing bugs per platform can be tedious. Moreover, you are dependent on the specific device’s mobile browser to render your HTML5 content —if there’s a bug there, it’s hard to resolve.”

The Center for Educational Technology is Israel’s largest developer of ICT-based educational materials with 400 staff and clients like the World Bank, European Union and Singapore’s Ministry of Education. The focus is on “inquiry,” or learning by trial and error, with collaboration via the web and tablets. Learning tools are developed in teams with three contributors: content, technology and product; they always include a mix of online and offline. According to Chief Business Development Officer Boaz Shedletsky,  previously of McGraw-Hill, ”We are in the midst of the transition to HTML5. Its main advantage is that is lets us develop our content once for multi-platform usage.” CET views HTML5 as an essential, rather than optional offering. “Our customers are kids, the most platform-agnostic consumer out there. We have to offer an identical user experience across whatever platform can best enable their collaborative learning.”

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More Stories By Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the host of NBC Universal’s Live Digital with Shelly Palmer, a weekly half-hour television show about living and working in a digital world. He is Fox 5′s (WNYW-TV New York) Tech Expert and the host of United Stations Radio Network’s, MediaBytes, a daily syndicated radio report that features insightful commentary and a unique insiders take on the biggest stories in technology, media, and entertainment.