What is HTML5, Why is it such a big deal?

spanflockInternet and Web Development

Jun 24, 2012 (5 years and 6 months ago)

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What is HTML5?

We're sure by now you've heard the term "
HTML5
" thrown around by the likes of Apple and
Google. This is the next evolution of HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language, which forms
the backbone

of almost every site on the Internet. HTML4, the last major iteration of the
language, debuted in 1997 and has been subsequently poked and prodded so that it can handle
the demands of the modern Web.

Why is it such a big deal?

HTML 4 has been tweaked, st
retched and augmented beyond its initial scope to bring high
levels of interactivity and multimedia to Web sites. Plugins like Flash, Silverlight and Java
have added media integration to the Web, but not without some cost. In search of a "better
user exper
ience" and battery life, Apple has simply dropped support for some of these plugins
entirely on mobile devices, leaving much of the media
-
heavy Internet inaccessible on iPads
and iPhones. HTML5 adds many new features, and streamlines functionality in order

to
render these processor
-
intensive add
-
ons unnecessary for many common functions.


Assuming content providers sign on (and many are), this means you won't have to worry
about installing yet another plugin just to listen to a song embedded in a blog or w
atch a video
on YouTube. Similarly, this is a big deal for platforms that either don't support Flash (e.g.,
iPhone and iPad), or have well documented problems with it (e.g., Linux). It will be a
particular boon to those smartphones for which supporting Fla
sh has proven problematic.

So what exactly can it do?

HTML5's most touted features are media playback and offline storage. With HTML4, sites
usually have to reach for Flash (or Silverlight) to simply show a video or play music. HTML5
lets sites directly em
bed media with the simple
HTML tags

"<video>" and "<audio>"
--

no
plugins required. There are some issues currently being debated by the powers that be, and a
particularly sticky on
e deals with file format. Some companies, especially

Mozilla
, are
pushing for the adoption of the open
-
source
Ogg

format, which is free f
or anyone to use.
Others, like Apple, would prefer the higher quality
H.264

format, which will eventually
require browser makers to pay licensing fees to support it.


The other major addition th
at has garnered media attention is the ability to store offline data
for Web apps. One of the major roadblocks in the march to replace traditional desktop apps
has been that the Web
-
based ones are useless without an Internet connection. Google
developed a
stopgap solution with Gears, but that product
has been retired

as the company is
shifting its focus to HTML5. This will mean being able to create files in Google Docs or
draft
e
-
mails when away from an Internet connection. These changes would be automatically
synced the next time you're online.


HTML5 also adds new interactivity features, like
drag
-
and
-
drop
, that have already found their
way into Gmail.

How can I take advantage of it now?

Most likely, you're already taking advantage of it without knowing.
Safari

(both mobile and
desktop),

Google Chrome

and
Firefox 3.6

all support at least some elements of HTML5.
(Internet Explorer 8's support for HTML5 is very limited.) And many Google products
already use some features of the next
-
generation protocol. If you're using Safari or Chrome,
you can check out an
experimental version of YouTube

that makes use of HTML5's video
features. Gmail and
Google Reader

have adopted parts of the standard, as well. Additionally,
any site listed here as being "
iPad ready
" is making
extensive use of HTML5, including The
New York Times, CNN and CBS. The latter of which recently announced it would be
phasing
out Flash

in favor of HTML5

for all video content. If you want to dig a little deeper, you can
check out a series of
experiments from Mozilla

that show just what HTML5 can do, and these
design

roundups

show off what it brings to t
he table for designers and typographers.


Flash won't be going away anytime soon, of course; it's still widely used and supported, and
those
Flash
-
based games

that we love so much are impossible to re
create using HTML. But
it's important to know that when you hear people tossing about the phrase "HTML5," it isn't
just some meaningless buzz word; they're talking about the future of the Internet.