What’s With All the Fuss About HTML5?

By Jean du Plessis on 2010/07/27

What is HTML5?

HTML5 is the next version of HTML (HyperText Markup Language) which is the core markup language of pages on the World Wide Web.  

The web has changed a lot in the last 13 years since HTML4 became a standard back in 1997 - the year Dolly the sheep was cloned and Titanic hit the movies. The rise of web applications (like Gmail and Google Docs) and the increasing use of rich media on the web has highlighted the gaping holes in the current specification to meet the need of modern day web sites and web applications. 

The HTML5 specification was started by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) in June 2004 under the name Web Applications 1.0. It was later adopted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 2007 as the starting point of the work of the new HTML working group with Ian Hickson of Google, Inc. as the editor in charge of the HTML5 specification. 

Currently in Working Draft stage, the specification is expected to reach the Candidate Recommendation stage during 2012 and finally become a W3C Recommendation in the year 2022 or later. This timeline has not stopped browser vendors from implementing many of the relatively stable sections of the specification in the latest version of their browsers.

What's New in HTML5?

Many of the enhancements to HTML5 won’t be visible to the end-user but to the developer it opens up a whole new world. 

Many new tags have been added (like <nav>, <footer>, <article> etc.) that will allow a developer to mark up the page in a more semantic manner which in turn will allow search engines and screen readers to understand the context of the information better. 

Multimedia functionality has also been added with the addition of the <video> and <audio> tags that will allow websites to play video and audio without requiring the user to have Flash or other plug-ins installed. Web forms have also received some love with the addition of more types (like email, telephone number etc.) and attributes. 

Not only does HTML5 specify new markup, but it also adds a whole bunch of exciting scripting APIs. These new APIs provide functionality that enable developers to build feature rich and fast web applications previously only experienced in desktop applications. You can view this video of Remy Sharp presenting on the new JavaScript APIs.

Flash vs. HTML5 Canvas

One of the biggest talking points of HTML5 is the Canvas element. The Canvas element allows for dynamic, scriptable rendering of 2D shapes and images. 3D rendering capabilities are already in planning in the form of the WebGL standard currently being developed.  

This functionality was previously only available by using Flash, but is now natively available in the browser via Canvas and it has been touted as the Flash ‘killer’. Aiding in the increasing popularity of Canvas and the possible demise of Flash is Apple’s refusal to allow Flash on the iPhone and iPad. 

In what has been quite a heated public debate, Apple has stood firm on their decision and Steve Jobs released their (Apple’s) thoughts on Flash. In the article Jobs allude to many of Flash’s shortcomings like reliability, security and performance.  

Adobe, makers of Flash authoring tools, are certainly not going out without a fight and will in a future release support exporting Flash animations to Canvas as was demonstrated in this video.

So When Can We Use It?

In a perfect world, we could already be using most of these new features of HTML5. That is if we didn’t have to put up with Internet Explorer (IE). Most modern browsers (like Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari) support HTML5 in their latest versions, but IE is still lagging behind. 

This does not mean you can’t use it though. By implementing a progressive enhancement strategy you can enhance the standard functionality provided by your website or web application so that users of modern browsers can get a better experience. Libraries like Modernizr allow you to detect the functionality supported by a user’s browser and target them appropriately. 

There does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel with the upcoming release of Internet Explorer 9. Microsoft has done a lot a catching up in this release and have included some of HTML5’s new features including the Canvas tag. When users of older versions of Internet Explorer finally switch to Internet Explorer 9 or a better browser, we can expect to see HTML5 being implemented all over the web.

Quirk’s Position on HTML5

Quirk is always on the lookout for new technologies that will allow us to craft smarter and more creative websites and web applications. We’re excited about HTML5 and what it can do for the web. We believe it will provide a stepping stone that will see a more interactive and rich experience for the user on the web.  

To make sure we are at the cutting edge of these enhancements to HTML, we’ve already started implementing it in our internal web projects so that when HTML5 goes mainstream Quirk will be ready to provide our customers the latest and greatest that the web has to offer them.

HTML5 in Action

I am sure you would like to see some HTML5 in action, so here's a small collection of demos showcasing some HTML5 functionality: