Why HTML 5 is important for mobile development

Mobile will drive advanced Web features

With the effective cancellation of the W3C's XHTML2 project, HTML 5 emerges as the foundation for future Web development.

And, under the pressure of mobile Web development, it will very quickly become very important, says Jason Grigsby, Vice President, Mobile and Web Strategist, at Cloud Four, a Portland, Oregon Web and application development shop.

In a blogpost today, Grigsby writes "At the risk of being accused of wearing mobile-tinted glasses, HTML5 is going to big a deal and it will be relevant much sooner than people think."

That's because, Grigsby says, HTML 5 provides a range of key capabilities that mobile developers targeting the new breed of Web browser will enthusiastically embrace. The key HTML 5 features include: offline support, via the AppCache and Database APIs for storing stuff locally on the device; Canvas and Video to simplify adding graphics and video to a page while ignoring plugins; advanced forms, which can handle tasks like field validation on the mobile browser; and the GeoLocation API, which Grigsby points out is not actually part of HTML 5 but often crops on phones that are supporting HTML 5.

Not being a developer myself, I've been aware of the XHTML2 controversy but haven't followed it closely. Grigsby has a serveal links to sites which go deep into the merits of both standards.

But his more technically more fluent post, with the added insight of actually being a code writer, reflects the basic theme of of our recent coverage: that the most modern browsers, many based on the Webkit engine, coupled with HTML 5 support, offer a very simple to use platform for building very sophisticated mobile Web applications. The same basic technologies in fact are being embedded in both Palm's webOS and Google's just-announced Chrome OS for exactly those same reasons.

The two key players in the HTML 5 development are the W3C's HTML Working Group  and the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG). That latter was specifically formed to develop HTML and APIs for Web application development.

Grigsby says that's an important emphasis, one that seems at least for now somewhat orthogonal to the debate over the current HTML 5 shortcomings, principally it's lack of extensibility. While important, that's less of an issue for mobile application developers, if I read him correctly.

He also counters those who argue HTML 5 is irrelevant for the moment because it's not supported by Microsoft Internet Explorer, Grigsby argues it's that very fact that means mobile will drive HTML 5 adoption: "The iPhone, Google Android, Nokia, and the Palm Pre are all based on the open source Webkit browser engine. Those phones represent somewhere around 65% of smart phones sold."

It's not clear, he argues, that Microsoft even has a viable mobile strategy, since it's principal Windows Mobile implementer, HTC, has publicly indicated it expects the Android OS to be on half of all the mobile phones it ships in 2010. UPDATE: Jason tells me that the HTC move is rumored, not a fact.

The real obstacle to HTML 5, Grigsby says, somewhat surprising is RIM's BlackBerry OS, with its companion proprietary Web browser. But for both platforms, he notes, Opera's browser is available for download. "And Opera is one of the leading developers of HTML5."

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