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Ready for HTML5?

By Tim Kridel for Digital Innovation Gazette

By next year, annual sales of smartphones that support HTML5 should hit 1 billion worldwide, says the research firm Strategy Analytics. Even today, there’s a healthy installed base of HTML5 phones: at least 336 million, based on 2011 sales.

That market momentum is one reason why HTML5 skills are increasingly important. We recently spoke with Mike Richmond, a technologist in Intel’s Open Source Technology Center who focuses on HTML5, about what to keep in mind when working with the language. Disclosure: Intel is the sponsor of this content.

Why should mobile app developers begin mastering HTML5 if they aren’t already proficient? Does HTML5 enable them to develop app features that they otherwise couldn’t, or target certain segments such as browser-based Web apps ?

Mike Richmond: Applications developed in HTML5 are easier to move between target environments. And because HTML5 and CSS are so visual, it can be much easier to do user interfaces that are scalable between platforms rather than doing the same UI in native code. Web apps can also be delivered outside of an application store.


Besides iOS 5.1, what other mobile OS’s support HTML5?

M.R.: Virtually all of them, to some degree or another. Developers can use sites like HTML5Test.com or ringmark to determine which platforms support which features.

What are HTML5’s current drawbacks when it comes to mobile app development? And will those drawbacks disappear eventually?

M.R.: The spec’s not done, and implementations are uneven. The sites I mentioned are a big help. Use of products like PhoneGap and jQuery also help smooth out the differences. Facebook organized the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group to accelerate the testing process. Improvements are coming rapidly.

What are some pitfalls that developers should be aware of when using

HTML5?

M.R.: Don’t throw out your Kernighan and Ritchie book on C just yet. While JavaScript performance has increased two orders of magnitude in the last five years, it’s still not as fast as compiled C code. And JavaScript can be viewed in the clear on the client. So if you have some proprietary physics algorithm, you may want to keep it in C for performance of IP protection.

Also, you may want your app in a store for business reasons, and neither iOS nor Android support Web apps in their stores. PhoneGap is actually a solution that addresses all three of these concerns. It lets you combine native code and HTML5/JS/CSS, and the result is packaged as a native app.

Do some mobile OS’s and device vendors implement HTML5 differently from others? If so, what kinds of challenges does that fragmentation create for developers, and how can they work around that?

M.R.: The specs are pretty well-written, so it’s not so much a question of fragmentation as it is the fact that not every spec is done, nor is every spec implemented. But the pressure to get there is intense. Website developers have been successfully dealing with this for years. No matter how hard it seems, it’s easier than moving from Objective-C on iOS to Dalvik on Android.

Copyright (c) 2012 Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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