What is the big fuss about HTML5?
HTML5 has been getting considerable attention over the last several months, as it is expected transform the Internet space. However, how much of this is true, or hype?
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) version 5, like previous revisions, is a set of standards used by the World Wide Web. Most people are aware of HTML as a language used to build websites, however this new version is being developed as a free and open platform that will support media-rich applications. Experts anticipate that HTML5, will not only transform our Internet experience, but also could considerable change how computing programmes and applications are run.
As at the time of posting this article, the standard has not yet been finalised. Nevertheless there is a wealth of information available on HTML5, and specifically on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG). Additionally, there are a number of forums and communities in which the characteristics, possible application of the standard, etc., are being discussed. However, this post will outline a few of its features and limitations, as well as some implications for the Caribbean.
HTML5 is expected to provide a broad range of improvements over HTML4. Two anticipated benefits are discussed below.
Cross platform solution. A key feature of HTML5 is that it promises to be a cross-platform solution. Programmes, including those with video and other multimedia content, will now run via a web browser, rather than via an operating system (OS) installed on a computing device. Furthermore, running such content will no longer require extra plug-in software, such as Flash, and/or other workarounds. Those capabilities and requirements have been integrated into the standard.
This feature of HTML5 appears to reinforce another much hyped about trend: cloud computing, where computing applications and resources can be accessed and used over the Internet. With HTML5, the same content, applications, etc., can be accessed from any device, since they are being stored and run over the Internet.
Improved mobile browsing experience. Another key area that HTML5 is expected to make a significant impact is with regard to Internet browsing on mobile phones, particularly smartphones. Currently, accessing web content over mobile phones can be slow and difficult, which in turn has driven the overwhelming growth in mobile application (m-app) development and use. According to McKinsey[i]:
HTML5 has the potential to improve the mobile experience—its specifications enable browsers to locally store 1,000 times more data than they currently do, so users can work when offline—writing e-mails, for example—and their devices will automatically update when a network becomes available. What’s more, programs and applications run faster because complex processing tasks are handled by network servers, although mobile-network capacity must go on growing to deal with heavier data demands.
Challenges of HTML5
Although a number of advantages should be realised through HTML5, there are also challenges associated with its use.
Different programmes, different needs. Although it is intended that HTML5 will become a universal computing platform, not all programmes will benefit from being run in a browser environment. Additionally, while it might provide a common platform, the performance of programmes and applications might vary across browsers, or even across smartphones or other computing devices. It is therefore possible that other (competing and even complementary) standards will emerge, which are better suited to specific applications, devices or contexts.
OpenSource versus proprietary software. HTML5 is currently being developed as a free and open standard. However, there are considerable security concerns, particularly as they relatesto protecting data online. This could be especially worrying to mobile/smartphone manufacturers, and specifically those that use proprietary OSs and have established stringent controls that protect both the device and the user. While those manufacturers might be keen to capitalise on the improved functionality HTML5 will provide, they are likely to be reluctant to completely move away from their own core systems. Instead, and at least in the early stages, they might be more inclined to incorporate the best features of the new standard and maintain some control over their devices’ operating environment.
How could HTML5 affect us in the Caribbean?
Much of the work on HTML5 is being undertaken and driven by developed countries, and although the standard is not yet complete, HTML5 websites are already being developed. It therefore appears that widespread implementation is inevitable. McKinsey is already predicting that within the next 3 to 5 years more that 50% of all m-apps will switch to HTML5[ii]. However, what does that mean for the Caribbean?
Within the region, mobile broadband is still quite expensive and is not widely used. For those with smartphones in particular, m-apps use tend to be quite intensive, and for those with BlackBerry phones, much of the activity on those devices is through the BlackBerry Messenger service, which is free.
To truly capitalise on the features and capabilities of HTML5, the Caribbean will need more affordable mobile broadband service. More importantly, due to the virtually ubiquitous use of mobile phones in the region, service providers must ensure that their networks can accommodate the considerable traffic, should mobile Internet take off, and must be prepared to develop their infrastructure to ensure optimal performance.