July 28, 2011

HTML5 Is the Future: But Not Like You Think

At DevCon5, the first time event focused on education and intensive interaction between leading members and thought leaders of the HTML5 developer and designer community, Charles Jolley, Strobe founder and CEO, did something that left me in awe. He had a lunchtime audience at rapt attention with his talk, “HTML5 Is the Future: But Not Like You Think.” As someone who has given more than a fair share of talks while people are otherwise easily distracted, this was an impressive accomplishment. The former executive responsible for Mobile Me application development at Apple (News Alert) had everyone at the title.

So what got everyone to listen closely all the way to the end? The answer came in his fleshing out of three key points:

  • HTML5 will become the dominate app platform for mobile, PCs and televisions in the coming years.
  • These won’t be your father’s web apps.
  • A whole new tool chain is developing to make this possible.

A look inside

HTML5 will dominate

Jolly says, as other speakers at the conference had also predicted, we are in the midst of a revolution and the reasons for why it will succeed are simultaneously simple and complex. First, great forces are at work:

  • Mobility: Accounting for device turnover, the total installed base for PC’s is around 1B units. For smartphones and tablets it will easily reach 2B by 2015. Mobile is the biggest technological shift to hit the computing industry ever by at least a factor of 2x.
  • Building apps for multiple OS platforms: There will be no mobile OS monopoly (likely not even a duopoly) that can please users who do not care about technology but care very much about consistency in experience and portability, which means finding a way to do accommodate that need is paramount for developers. In essence, apps must be write once/delight everywhere, every time, and all of the time regardless of time, place, status, form factor, etc. Jolley’s message was that developers’ primary objective of gaining high user engagement is to be everywhere with the same app.
  •  Today’s distribution model creates a conundrum as one of Jolley’s charts hightlighted:

HTML5 gets around these challenges:

  • It runs on every major mobile and desktop OS (and most TV’s) today
  • Is built by platform vendors
  • Supports most applications features

He then raised an interesting question. Does it only run on browsers, as is common consensus, or not? He made the case that IT DOES NOT.

These won’t be your father’s web apps

Going back to the point that users do not care about technology but do care about consistency in the way they experience content (and I would add context), Jolley says that in the mobile device world what is required is a term he calls, “Mobile Web App”:

 HTML5 gives developers the ability to replicate the user experience of the browser offline with:

  • No degradation of the user experience Designed to be optimally viewed, and have content creation and manipulated done, according to a device’s native capabilities and form factor
  • The ability for developers to create such apps quickly, test them comprehensively, deploy them globally and do so efficiently and the maximum impact; the idea being that native wrappers will allow creation of apps that can be distributed through both the browser and an app store giving developers and other members of the content creation and delivery ecosystem larger addressable audiences and options as to the best/most profitable way to reach them.

A whole new tool chain is developing to make this possible

OK. The last point got me to sit up very straight and focus even more intently. How so?

Jolley said it will happen because a new tool chain is developing that takes the developer community into a new development paradigm. He correctly pointed out that the web, until now, was about visiting pages. It was about going from place to place. In fact, Google’s (News Alert) success has banked on this nomadic destination model. The new mobile web is about bringing the web to you on multiple screens with a compelling and comparable experience, as evidenced by the creation of Google, Apple, Microsoft (News Alert) and other ecosystems. In the new world, business models to be sorted out, value is going to be created by keeping end user content viewing, manipulation and publishing within that ecosystem.

According to Jolley, the new tool chain is a key paradigm shift enabler. It moves the development model from being centered on proprietary application server frameworks to one centered on client-side frameworks working seamlessly with cloud services.

While obviously an evangelist for all of this (Strobes description of itself is “We build for the Internet’s multi-device renaissance”), Jolley’s point is well-taken. Whether HTML5 proves to be the panacea that inoculates developers from the tyranny of proprietary platforms and walled gardens that extend to distribution options is an open question. However, there can be no question that we are at the bottom of the on ramp to monumental change as we enter an era of the mobile internet being the hub/digital dashboard for our connectedness and community.

The good news from DevCon5 is that developers are manning the ramparts of the revolution. The intrigue is going to be about how they leverage their position versus the interests of other parts of the broadly defined mobile Internet universe.

It is always great at an event when the food for the mind makes your almost forget the need for physical nourishment. As I said, he had me and everyone at the title.  

Here is a short video of Jolley at DevCon5:

Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry’s biggest brands, including Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Telcordia, HP, Siemens, Nortel (News Alert), France Telecom, and others, and having served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter’s work, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves


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