By 2016 more than 2.1 billion mobile devices will have HTML5 browsers, up from just 109 million last year, ABI Research projects. The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, the Internet standards organization, says the official HTML5 programming language standard will still officially be in testing in 2014. But web site, mobile site and mobile app developers already are digging into HTML5 as it exists today. ABI Research says 25 HTML5 features currently in use or in development will become widely used at varying intervals within the next three to five years.
“We expect HTML5 features in categories such as graphics, multimedia, user interactions, data storage and others to be widely adopted sooner rather than later,” says Mark Beccue, senior analyst, consumer mobility, at ABI Research. “HTML5 adoption is going to accelerate because it will be a key differentiator in the smartphone operating system war. Apple will be the key driver of HTML5 and consequently a primary benefactor as well.”
Numerous smartphones and tablet PCs that run operating systems from Apple Inc. (iOS), Google Inc. (Android), Research in Motion (BlackBerry) and Microsoft Corp. (Windows) come equipped with HTML5 mobile web browsers today.
The driving force behind HTML5 is developers’ desire to make mobile web site experiences on par with mobile app experiences. Because a mobile app resides on a device (“native” in developer parlance), it can make use of the features and functions of the device. For example, it can integrate with a smartphone’s GPS, address book and accelerometer (technology that enables features like shaking a phone to alter a page). It can also cache data on a device, which speeds performance, and make greater use of a device’s built-in processing power. Mobile web sites built using HTML4 cannot do these things, but mobile web sites built using HTML5 can, thus making a site more like an app, which is widely acknowledged to provide the better mobile experience today.
Apple is the leader in HTML5 web browser development, Beccue says, adding more features and functions with upgrades of its Safari web browser, which runs on all iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. The other players have been matching Apple where they can, and in some cases innovating prior to Apple, he adds.
Developers creating HTML5 features in their mobile web sites are focusing on Apple not just because it is the leader in innovation but also because there is less “fragmentation,” Beccue says. Any HTML5 feature added to a site will render or function properly on all Apple devices because all Apple devices use the same operating system and browser and are built with the same hardware technology. With Android, on the other hand, there is fragmentation: Though all Android devices run the Android operating system and Android mobile browser, ones built by major Android players such as HTC, Samsung and Motorola will have differing technology such as the user interface and processing power. As a result, developers have to account for differences with Android where there are none with Apple.
The most widely used HTML5 feature today is its geolocation application programming interface, or API. This enables mobile web sites to access a mobile device’s GPS technology. The ability to play video without the use of Adobe’s Flash programming language is a major HTML5 function developers are sinking their teeth into. This is because Apple devices will not run Flash.
Developers also are making use of more robust graphical features HTML5 offers, Beccue says. The language’s 2-D programmable API and advances in Cascading Style Sheets—templates that dictate how web pages render—are allowing developers to employ richer images and do so in a way that doesn’t bog down load time. Further, HTML5 through a feature called app cache enables sites to cache, or store, some data on a smartphone, which enhances speed through fewer server requests each time a page loads. And HTML5 enables programmers to make mobile web site pages more touch-friendly, which is key on mobile touchscreen devices.
“HTML5 is all about consumers accessing the web from devices other than desktop computers, and it’s about allowing the mobile web to have more of a level playing field with native mobile apps,” Beccue says. “The mobile operating system war centers on browsers, not apps. Because of that, when Apple or Google or Microsoft or BlackBerry brings a new HTML5 feature onboard they have a competitive advantage. Apple has proven that. Because of this competition to one-up each other, and with each company quickly adding the new features the others have added, you will see rapid adoption of HTML5 because the devices and browsers will be there and ready, and subsequently developers will use these powerful new features.”