Who could have imagined that HTML would rise again to become the next disruptive technology? It's not that the web's core language ever went away, but HTML certainly has taken a backseat to newer technologies for a very long time. HTML5 is going to be a game changer, and it's already creating new markets and disposing of existing ones—years before the specification is even finished.
Before I go further, I should clarify a few things for those who are unfamiliar with HTML5. If you've ever looked at a web page, you've seen HTML (or a browser's interpretation of HTML), which is the markup language that defines the content and layout of web pages through web browsers such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox. I use the word "interpretation" because browsers can all read the same code; they just interpret and display that information differently.
The World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) is currently writing the specification for HTML's fifth major revision, but it's a work in progress and will not be finalized for another couple of years. Likewise, CSS3 is not fully supported by today's browsers. That aside, all the primary browsers and major web technology companies are acknowledging HTML5 as a crucial part of the web's future and their business plans. While some browser developers are adopting the specification more slowly than others, all are moving toward HTML5 and CSS3 compatibility at a rapid pace. There is nothing proprietary about these technologies, so large and small companies alike are already developing useful software and cloud-based applications that make it easier to deploy HTML5 websites, applications, and games.
Thanks to HTML5, much more of the way we interact with the web of the future will happen in our browser and locally on our computers or devices, which will enable everything to happen more quickly, consistently, and efficiently across the widest spectrum of web-enabled devices.
Some will argue that such a sustaining and evolutionary technology like HTML cannot be considered disruptive. I disagree. HTML5 is not revolutionary, but it's the right technology happening at precisely the right time and it will significantly transform markets in ways that may not be obviously tied back to the technology itself.
For example, consider Amazon. In the late 1990s, it became clear that Amazon's online bookstore was seriously pressuring the traditional brick and mortar stores. Amazon's launch of the Kindle e-reader in 2007 turned out to be the wrecking ball for the majority of those stores that still existed—not just local bookstores that were already strained but behemoths like Borders, which filed for bankruptcy and liquidated its stores in 2011. Looking back, it's now easy to see how Amazon and the rise of the e-book initiated the slow demise of the printed book industry and infrastructure.
Now consider Amazon's new HTML5 Kindle Cloud Reader or the Financial Times web app for iOS. These companies are deliberately unshackling their mobile apps from the confines of the "app store" ecosystem by introducing web apps, which perform like desktop ("native") software applications but are created with HTML5 and are delivered through a web browser. The first feature highlight on the Kindle Cloud Reader website speaks to the benefits of HTML5 (see Figure 1).
The "new FT app for iPad and iPhone" boasts similar benefits. As an online marketing and business consultant, I can appreciate the direct plea for change in the opening paragraphs of this mobile website—which you'll see when you visit app.ft.com with a regular desktop browser—because it provides some insight into the business side of the web app vs. mobile app debate (see Figure 2).
Why would a company encourage its customers to forgo the App Store experience for a web app? The business advantages of web apps are extensive and undeniable. HTML5 makes it faster, easier, and more economical to deploy web-based applications that perform like software and work across all platforms, bypassing the need to develop individual mobile apps for multiple devices and operating systems. Publishers avoid costly app store revenue shares, lengthy submission approvals, and the constraints of working within another company's guidelines.
Web apps benefit from search engine visibility, and app updates happen instantaneously, assuring that everyone is using the latest version. Companies retain control of their direct relationships with customers, which are lost in the app store distribution model. App development and management resources are minimized, thanks to a develop-once-deploy-everywhere technology that reaches the largest possible audience. There are efficiencies everywhere you look.
So when I say that HTML5's disruptive impact may not be clearly tied back to the technology, I mean that most people will have no idea that a market is changing so dramatically. In the case of the Kindle Cloud Reader or Financial Times web app for iOS, the end user probably isn't even aware that anything has significantly changed, but when major companies begin to make fundamental shifts of this magnitude, there is going to be upheaval behind the scenes and within the related markets.
HTML5 has been a long time in the making. The past two years brought us the ability to experience much of the important HTML5 front-end functionality in the majority of browsers, such as the canvas element, video elements, and audio elements.
These are all important parts of HTML5's evolution, but I believe 2012 will be the year that designers and developers really begin to push the limits of HTML5 in real-world projects. We will see far more examples of how some of the less-publicized HTML5 enhancements work behind the scenes to improve our experiences, such as the following:
As we continue to narrow in on complete HTML5 browser support, new markets and related technologies and services will flourish. Innovative companies will appear from nowhere to become industry leaders. Today's mature companies and technologies will be competing right alongside them. As is typically the case with disruptive technologies, there will be plenty of carnage and casualties along the way. It's going to be an exciting year and I'm looking forward to staying on top of the developments.
In 2012, Adobe Inspire will include a regular column on how HTML5 is shaping today's web and our lives. It will feature interviews with top designers and developers who are pushing the boundaries of the technology and delivering new experiences on the web and mobile platforms. It will also deconstruct HTML5 projects and deliver tutorials covering unique aspects of HTML5 and its related technologies. Project showcases, resources, and even HTML5 games will be sprinkled in along the way, with the goal of delivering a valuable HTML5 informational resource that inspires designers and developers alike. I hope it becomes one of your favorites.
If you're a designer or developer working on HTML5 projects, or if your company is working on HTML5 initiatives, submit your web or mobile projects at high5showcase.com. High 5 Showcase will feature exceptional HTML5 projects, including thoughts and opinions from the project designers, along with the considerations and challenges they faced during development and deployment. I'll be gathering these projects during the next couple of months for an April 2012 launch of the site, and I would love to see your work.
If you're a web designer or developer, the resources below provide useful HTML5 information:
Dave Klein is an online marketing consultant based in Boulder, Colorado. He has worked with several Adobe partners focusing on 3D software and technologies since early 2000. Reach him at kleinnewmedia.com.