Industry Blog

HTML5 – Workhorse or Trojan Horse

Whether you regard Adobe’s recent announcement as throwing their hat into the ring for HTML5 or throwing in the towel for Flash on mobile, the end result is the same. HTML5 now has the critical mass of industry giants behind it that will ensure it succeeds.

Question is -– what will you do with it, or what will it do to you?

HTML5, along with the nuts and bolts of JavaScript and CSS, appears to have come of age almost overnight, and the opportunity for cross-platform apps and services that work on sub-gigahertz handsets has never been more real. Much has been written on native apps versus web apps: the native camp will tell you about performance, mature distribution models (app stores), and seamless payment. The web camp touts open standards, the low entry-barrier for developers, the fact that HTML5 apps can be searched by standard web crawlers, and the trump card – a “write once run everywhere” cross-platform paradigm.

Truthfully, there is no battle. Most observers now agree it’s “each to its own.” Apps such as processing-intensive games will work better downloaded as native; others that exploit cloud-based computing or content will work better if they can stay in the cloud (and make increasing use of HTML5). But the momentum behind HTML5 is undeniable.

All major browser vendors and handset OEMs already support HTML5. Some are going much further – eg as Mozilla plans to build an HTML5 based OS. Non-HTML5 handsets are growing more scarce according to Strategy Analytics’ recent HTML5 Phone Sales to Grow 100% in 2012. Virtually 100% of new SmartPhones are now HTML5 compatible, and, across all handset categories, they forecast HTML5 handset sales to grow from 3 million units worldwide in 2009 to 336 million in 2011, and then doubling to 673 million in 2012.

Mass adoption may be a couple of years off (the HTML5 specifications have not yet been completed), but the momentum is building regardless of whether or not Adobe joined the herd.

An HTML5 World
HTML5 will further accelerate the trend whereby mobile and fixed internets become gradually indistinguishable in terms of look and feel. This is good news for end users who will be increasingly impacted by HTML5. We already know that mobile browser usage is on the rise. GSMA released stats back at MWC stating that each month SmartPhone users spend on average 667 minutes playing with apps, and 422 minutes browsing. And those figures by and large are pre-HTML5!

HTML5 in the browser will introduce many features found today in Flash – such as enabling videos to be streamed through the browser in a seamless fashion. Moreover, HTML5 enables a much richer, more intuitive and personalized user engagement. See for example Openwave’s HTML5-based solutions which leverage HTML5 to dynamically engage and encourage users with contextual promotions and tailored price plans, yet retain an unobtrusive nature, invisible until invoked by the user’s circumstances.

HTML5’s presence won’t just be on phones either. We can see for example the rise of connected TVs which will support interaction across diverse platforms via HTML5. And it bears repeating: the low barrier to entry for developers means major players like Adobe can catch up by investing in developer framework tools as they did for Flash.

Some Over-the-Top Scenarios
Apple of course may be big enough to take on all new-comers, but it will be interesting to see in one or two years if their lack of support for flash, which contributed to the HTML5 business case, does in fact undermine the walled garden they so zealously protect. The rise of cross-platform HTML5-based app stores focused on web apps (see for example zeewee, openspacestore, openappmkt) should not be underestimated, especially as Facebook dips its toe in the water with so-called Project Spartan. All of the traditional app stores as they are operated today are somewhat at risk from HTML5. Strangely this could be a two-edged sword for Android since HTML5 may in fact prove to be a unifying platform for the deeply fragmented family of Android handsets.

For the mobile operator, HTML5 provides a means to re-assert their presence in the value chain, starting with the capability to offer cloud-based HTML5 web app-stores and ending with…well, it depends on how willing operators will be to break with traditional telco thinking. There is enormous opportunity for operators who can put long held traditions to one side and expose their network assets, such as Voice, Billing and Messaging, to developers of web apps in order to create truly meaningful and holistic services rather than point apps. In this scenario, HTML5 provides the mechanism for deep user intimacy and interactivity, utilizing the in-browser canvas and contextual and behavioral awareness to offer a truly superior user experience on every device.

The alternative? Operators may find themselves competing not just with the traditional app stores, but with a whole new family of HTML5 upstarts.