Is HTML5 growing faster than expected?
By Chantal Tode
August 5, 2011
With companies such as Twitter, Financial Times and InMobi all recently committing to HTML5, the technology-in-the-making appears to be picking up steam at a faster pace.
HTML5 is actually a loose term referring to a group of new technologies – many not launched yet – that are intended to improve the Web browsing experience through richer interactivity. While the belief has been that HTML5 is several years off, the fact that a growing number of companies are embracing it now brings this into question.
“HTML5 adoption is happening at a much faster pace than the timetable set by the World Wide Web Consortium,” said Gregory Kennedy, director of global marketing at InMobi, Palo Alto, CA.
“The quick adoption of HTML5 demonstrates just how much pent up demand there was for a scalable way to develop rich media across devices,” he said.
“HTML5 has now passed the high-risk, early adopter phase. It is now clearly entering the mainstream and is being used by cutting edge brands who are leaders in their category.”
One reason companies are looking to HTML5 is because there is the feeling that the mobile Web has the potential to be more important to consumers than apps.
Mobile ad network InMobi is one of the mobile players coming out in support of HTML5, having recently acquired HTML5 company Sprout.
“The OS community and mobile companies have realized that the Web is extremely important and probably more important than apps,” said Mark Beccue, senior analyst at ABI Research, New York.
HTML5 starts to address some of the limitations of mobile Web browsers in comparison to apps, which have typically provided a richer experience.
For example, HTML5 gives developers a way to create browser-based sites that can store data locally if a mobile device loses connectivity, provide real-time data and create richer looking mobile sites that download faster.
They can also develop mobile Web sites that look and act very much like an app using HTML5.
HTML5 can also help companies address the fragmentation in mobile devices.
Android and iOS are the leading mobile operating systems but there are numerous others ones as well, including Symbian, WebOS and Windows Phone 7. As a result, it can be costly for companies to develop and maintain apps across so many devices.
“HTML5 serves as an attempt to gain a ‘build-once, run-everywhere’ advantage, thereby solving the fragmentation problem,” said Pratik Rathod, director of product operations at Polar Mobile, Toronto.
The idea that HTML5 can be deployed across devices is a compelling one for companies.
However, in reality there are still some limitations in how HTML5 executes across devices.
“The promise of being able to build once and have it work everywhere is not true,” said Paul Gubbay, vice president of engineering for creative suite design, Web and interactive teams at Adobe, San Jose.
“You do end up having to tweak it for different devices," he said.
Still, the interest from marketers in HTML5 is there, giving companies such as Adobe an incentive to work out the kinks. Adobe recently made a public preview of its new HTML5 design tool Adobe Edge available so that users can provide feedback and help shape the final product.
“We can see very clearly that HTML5 is gaining and our customers are interested in leveraging it,” Mr. Gubbay said. “There is no question this is the direction of the future but there is still more work to do to make it successful.”
Another reason why some companies – content publishers, in particular – are embracing HTML5 now rather than wait is because they do not want to pay Apple a 30 percent cut of any sales that take place in an iOS app.
Apple introduced new rules for content sales earlier this year and began enforcing them recently, causing publishers such at The Financial Times and Kobo to look to HTML5-based content apps.
“The media companies, which are drowning anyway, are trying to figure out a way to monetize mobile and HTML5 allows them to do it,” ABI Research’s Mr. Beccue said.
Apple – a significant force behind the success of apps – is also one of the leaders behind the development of HTML5 for mobile.
“Apple has enabled a lot of HTML5 features in its Web browser, which is the standard that everyone looks to,” Mr. Beccue said.
“I think the main reason the iPhone is a success is not that Apple has apps, it’s that the iPhone has a wonderful browser that is highly capable,” he said.
“The rest of the mobile community knows this and that they have to keep up,” he said.
However, while HTML5 is gaining, some think it should be growing even faster.
“Leading smarpthones have had support for HTML5 for a couple of years, if not more, and we’re only now seeing widespread traction for the technology,” Polar Mobile’s Mr. Pratik said. “I had hoped to see more innovating with HTML5 sooner given its potential.”
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
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