Is HTML dead?

Yes, HTML is great. HTML5 (now just known as HTML) is going to be great. It will finally bring that much needed functionality it’s been lacking all these years, and cross-platform to boot. All the major browser vendors are saying HTML is great, and that their browser supports it best. So what could possibly be wrong? Well, for one the browser really seems to be an out-of-date mechanism to provide rich functionality. As an application platform it’s coming apart at the seams, because users want applications that work awesome on their device of choice. Forget the clunky, lowest common denominator browser-based interface, users want Apps with a capital A!

So while one side of the industry is focusing on standardizing on HTML, the other side (within the same companies) is moving in an entirely different direction. The amazing number of apps available and the growth rate in the Apple AppStore, and the Android and Windows Phone equivalents, is the best evidence that this is actually working better. Cross-platform? Forget it! Cross-platform is slow(er), one size fits all, and most important… not sexy.

Don’t underestimate the importance of being sexy. Let me explain by example. The Dutch government has all laws published on the web at wetten.nl. That means it works in all modern browsers on all platforms, including tablets and phones. There’s no flash involved or anything, so it is truly cross-platform. Also, this is very much in line with efforts of recent years to have the entire government use open standards and open source (see NOIV at http://noiv.nl/service/english/). With mobile touch devices on the rise, the user interface of wetten.nl might need an update to be more suitable to touch and smaller screens. Since the website is all HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, the obvious and NOIV route would be to make adjustments to suite the upcoming devices. But what happened instead? An iPad App was built. Is this a logical choice? Nope, not even close. Even if you don’t look at NOIV and look at reach. The website has a far wider reach, and if you wanted to do something beyond that, well there’s a whole lot more Windows PCs out there than there are iPads. Not to mention that it leaves other devices out in the cold. So really, that much effort (and tax payer money) to build an App that adds nothing? Yep, that’s what “sexy” does.

But wait, isn’t Microsoft betting on HTML with Windows 8? Maybe, but I’m not 100% sure about that one yet. Also, Microsoft isn’t known for its choices when it comes to mobile devices. Microsoft sort of invented the tablet almost 10 years ago, but Apple has taken the credit. Microsoft phones haven’t done particularly well, although Windows Phone shows promise. I love mine actually, but I rarely open the browser on that thing. It’s all apps (yup, guilty!)

Where does this leave us? Well, HTML is going to be around for a long long time, but as things are going it will go back to its original purpose: browse information, and primarily for PCs. PCs which are some are already saying are “legacy devices” (I personally believe we’ll move more to hybrid devices, and different devices connected like with Dropbox, Skydrive, iCloud etc.) For the development community this is actually great. Where previously users were complaining about stuff not being cross-platform, they are now actually demanding customized apps for the specific platform they are using, and the government actually tramples over its own guidelines. This means developers have an excuse to have to build an app for at least two or three platforms, so we won’t be out of a job anytime soon. That said, it means that what’s going on at the server is getting more important, because we have to reuse functionality at some level for the costs not to get out of hand. Enter cloud computing, which is great for developers like me: graphically impaired. This by the way is also great for internet providers, providing they can keep up with the bandwidth demand.

As a developer all I can say is thank you Mr. Jobs for putting users with their nuts in the bear trap, and loving it.

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