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HTML5 is a fat man’s bag of surprises

December 5, 2012

A recent article entitled “Why HTML5 provided more tricks than treats in 2012” outlined a series of reason why, in the author’s view, HTML5 failed to deliver in 2012.

The article was oft tweeted, but it, like the headline, was … well… so October. It focused too much on the HTML5 of the past.

We spend an inordinate amount of time at Mozilla thinking, talking and doing HTLM5 and given that we are coming up on the Holiday Season, let’s conjure up everyone’s favorite festive elf and explain why the future of HTML5 is full of surprises.

So let’s look at each past trick and treat in order and see what’s new that we can pull out of the bag. (Again, the original article is here so you may want to check that out first.)

Trick or treat 1: Cross-Platform HTML5 Development Hasn’t Taken Off.

Surprise: There are two answers here. The first is that with Responsive Design, you can actually create a single app that runs equally well on mobile and desktop. The best example I know of is The Boston Globe. You can watch a video here of how they do what they do responsively. Behance has a great collection of Responsive Design examples.

The other answer is, yeah, for a lot of apps you probably will have to do a mobile and desktop version. But you have to do that anyway when you’re making an app. The benefit of HTML5 is less “write once, run everywhere” as it is “write once and optimize.” You could write a single HTML5 app that works across a variety of handsets. And then use a lot of the same code for another app that works across desktop and tablets.

Sure, you’re not writing one app and out-of-the-box deploying it everywhere. But you could write an app, tweak it a little, and cover every platform you need.

Trick or treat 2. App Stores Deliver Discoverability, HTML5-Only Sites Are Out in the Woods.

Surprise: What if there was a new marketplace that only distributed HTML5 apps, would that help? What if that marketplace was distributed on a new HTML5 mobile operating system? What if that marketplace was also distributed on Android?

We would also challenge the notion that the only way to provide discoverability is via an app store. The web provided great discoverability for years, right Google? If you can discover a web site, you can discover a web app.

There is also innovation happening in discoverability. Quixey is doing a great job in creating app discovery tools. And you may have read that Mozilla invested in, probably one of the most innovative and user-friendly approaches to HTML5 app discovery out there.

Major publications from the Financial Times to the New York Times are finding it easier and more effective to distribute their app on their own. Think about it, users have been accustomed to openly and freely finding content on the web for decades; the real historical anomaly is the centralized app store.

Trick or treat 3. Hybrid Apps Can’t Depend on Mobile Browsers

Surprise: Soon, they won’t need to. Who says you need a mobile browser to access HTML5 content? In reality, all you need is a runtime capable of running HTML5 and you’re set. Again, Mozilla is leading the way by building a browserless runtime that not only runs HTML5 content, but also provides the APIs that lets the app talk to device level components such as the camera, accelerometer and so on.

Put another way, HTML5 content will soon run outside of the browser. All the capabilities the HTML5 app needs will be attached to the app itself, so neither the developer nor the user will have to worry about what mobile browser is on the device.

Trick or Treat 4. Fragmentation, Fragmentation, Fragmentation

Surprise: I’d have to refer back to points 1 and 3. Responsive Design (point 1) can help address the fragmentation issue across different phone sizes; and having your app run on a single web runtime (point 3) will eliminate fragmentation challenges due to different browsers.

There are always going to be fragmentation issues but the web is by far a more flexible creation and distribution platform

Trick or Treat 5. HTML5 Isn’t Robust Enough

Surprise: At Mozilla, we love the web but we’ll fully concede that HTML5 and the mobile web haven’t kept up with other mobile technologies. But that’s the past. Here’s the future: New design techniques like responsive design are helping to make cross platform optimization easier. New companies like are offering innovative discovery and making the app store obsolete. And we’re doing our part at Mozilla by creating, and then open-sourcing, new web technologies like a web runtime and new APIs to give HTML5 apps the same look and feel and performance as any other mobile app.

So has the past of HTML5 been more trick than treat? Maybe. But reaching into our holiday bag of surprises we’re finding a new HTML5 present that will be the future of mobile apps.

Cross posted from The Firefox Apps Blog

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