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HTML 5: What is it and Why use it?

During most of my career, I have worked with HTML 4, created back in 1997, and XHTML 1.0 which came along in 2000. For over a decade, web interface developers have used HTML 4 and XHTML. So when HTML 5 came along in 2009, I began to have clients, colleagues, and recruiters asking me if I knew HTML 5? I discovered that there are many misconceptions with what HTML 5 really is.What HTML 5 is Not

• HTML 5 is not one big thing: just like an update to old software, HTML 5 is not a total replacement to HTML 4 and XHTML, but rather a number of added new features.

• HTML 5 is not mobile specific: HTML 5 may aid mobile development, but is generalized to any web browser. HTML 5 is for web, not mobile.

 HTML5 is not “Responsive design:” responsive design is a technique which assures a website adapts it’s layout and features on both desktop computers to mobile devices. Many merge the concept of responsive design into HTML 5, but this is not what HTML 5 is.

What HTML 5 Is

HTML 5 is the latest version of HTML with focus on making the web more meaningful, consistent across browsers, and support for the latest media. HTML 5 encompasses a long list of new capabilities to HTML and is not one thing, but a number of technologies working together such as Javascript, CSS3, and HTML elements. It is true that HTML 5 was built with mobile in mind, but mobile is not the only focus. The main focus with HTML 5 was to make the web better for everyone involved, from developer to end-user.

So let’s take a look at the top features of HTML 5 which will make websites better. (not listed by importance)

• Better Semantics: the web will make more sense at least semantically speaking with HTML 5. New tags have been added such as article, header, section, nav, and footer that will allow screenreaders to read website content easier and more consistently

• Video: This feature was made popular by Steve Jobs not supporting Flash on iOS devices. This feature is critical for Apple devices to play videos on websites.

• Files: HTML 5 will allow you to import files from your desktop/device, create new files, edit existing files, store files locally, and publish files back to the web (Google IO, 2011)

• Graphics/3D: HTML now supports SVG(scalable vector graphics) and 3D graphics, not many graphics on sites can be created with code rather than creating graphics in Photoshop. Look for charts other dynamic data to represented in much cooler ways.

• Local Storage: The will allow users to surf a website without being online. This will be great for apps where a user can make edits to a file or change their settings while offline, and then sync to the website once they are back online with an internet connection.

• Performance: The web will be faster with HTML 5 due to local storage and “web workers” which will allow multiple scripts to run at once without freezing the website while they run. This will make sites with complex interactions using heavy Javascript run considerably faster.

• CSS3: Too much to go in-depth on, but here are some of the new features:

  • WebFonts (now you won’t be looking at Arial and Times or an image replacement for text)
  • Transitions: native animations built into the browser; smoother fades and slides coming your way. This will be very interesting on some sites and very annoying on others.
  • many more…

• Geolocation: you will be seeing an alert popup in your browser more often in the future which reads “Would you like to share your location” This will allow your lat/long location to be sent to the site for use on targeted deals, nearest store locations, and other uses that will enhance the web experience.

When will HTML 5 Be Fully Supported?: The Current State of HTML 5

Now that we’ve discussed what HTML 5 is, let’s dive into the current state of HTML 5 and drill down into it’s features. HTML 5 is still under review and not finalized, but it is scheduled to be standardized in 2014. Although the HTML 5 specification is not finalized, many web developers have been able to take advantage of the features of HTML 5. Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera, and mobile browsers already support canvas, video, geolocation, and local storage. Internet Explorer 9 now supports many HTML 5 features as well.

So Why Use HTML5?

Plain and simply, HTML 5 is the future of the web; there is no other alternative. Desktop browser support is growing stronger and many technologies can be used on supporting browsers while hiding that feature from older browsers. Also, most mobile browsers support many of the HTML 5 features. ( full list: Now is the time to update your site to HTML 5. It is the new standard and your site visitors will be accustomed to richer experiences on the web. As I mentioned earlier, many sites are already implementing HTML 5 features into their sites and applications.

In the time of writing this article, I have still not implemented all the features of HTML 5 on any given site. The key is to make use of at least the core features of HTML 5 and make your site a bit more interactive, and a bit more intelligent, and possibly better performant, so that your site visitors and/or clients notice and want to come back and do business with you again and again.


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