Explainer: HTML5

What It Is: HTML5 is the most recent version of the core language used to make web pages. This version has a heavy focus on rich media development without the need for extensions and APIs to execute audio, video, and graphic manipulation. HTML5 is readable by the latest versions of all major web browser engines, such as Webkit. Each individual browser may use the parts of a web browser engine to its own specifications, which leads to differences in performance and execution despite a standard backed by W3C and HTML. For example, while Apple and Google both contribute to and use Webkit, both of them handle multimedia content differently in their respective browsers. Bottom line: HTML5 is the closest thing to a unified, feature rich, multi-platform development language.

Why It Matters: Remember when mobile web use to look like an Angelfire web page from the 90s? HTML5 has allowed for the gap between desktop web browsers and mobile web browsers to decrease even further. It allows for near Flash-like presentation in an open source format, governed by those who are developing and implementing it. HTML5 provides a multi-platform language that offers nearly all the same features and abilities of an app store app but requires a web browser to execute. There are definitely some limitations, but with all current smartphones implementing a version of Webkit, HTML5 websites offer a distinct advantage. In addition to rich media, HTML5 also allows such features as the manipulation of graphics based on device screen size and editing documents online or offline, which add a whole new level of depth to both a standard and mobile web experience. Google Docs is a fantastic example of HTML5 capabilities on both standard and mobile web.
Who’s Doing It: Everyone. But most notably mobile advertising and creative agencies. Web apps were overshadowed by app stores, like iTunes, before HTML5 was fully implemented into mobile browsers, but that doesn’t mean that your mobile site can be a list of hyperlinks and an image. While the traffic doesn’t always compare to apps, every device is equipped with a browser that can access your website, so treating it the same way you would an app is crucial. HTML5 provides the ability to do just that and agencies are steering their clients toward building out a full featured mobile website, with rich HTML5 being implemented as a base requirement, not a feature.
HTML5 also allows iAds and companies like Crisp and Medialets to provide a “near Flash-like” experience that makes mobile ads not “suck,” as Steve Jobs put it. Flash set the bar for ad interactivity on the web, but HTML5 provides nearly all the same features (and their own set as well) without the massive toll to battery life that we so commonly associate with it. HTML isn’t a new language, and unlike how you need dedicated developers for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, all digital creative agencies have teams of HTML developers who have been providing these services for standard and mobile web for quite some time.
Assessment: HTML5 is already critical for anyone in mobile. Every mobile app is taking advantage of an embedded web browser in some form. HTML5 holds the possibility of making the mobile web as good of an experience as the desktop web. The biggest benefit is allowing brands and publishers to develop once and deploy across multiple platforms. However, its biggest impediment is the balkanization of mobile operating systems from Google and Apple (and the rest when they claim a bigger stake). While that could mean mobile sites and ads built in HTML5 will still need tweaking, there’s still no doubt HTML5 is bound to have a core role as the web experience moves from the desktop to mobile.
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