Live long HTML, death to the browsers!

In last summer Wired Magazine published article about the Web. They spread the vision that in future Internet will obviously evolve, but Web – as we know it – will die. There will be no need for websites, but we’ll come back to apps and apps-bound content (think e-books, comics with dedicated reader, radio, music, video streaming, etc). If you’re interested to read that article, please go to this page.

When I read it, it triggered my loud thinking. I’m not sure if they’re completely true but there are some signals of such vision going through, right now. It’s well visible especially in mobile, portables devices, as well in game consoles.

Instead of raw web pages to access services exposed by vendors we choose dedicated applications. On some devices we have no choice. Xbox 360 does not give you an opportunity to browse the web freely, but gives you apps to access Facebook, Twitter and Last.FM services. Those services are good examples of on-line service, which has multi-platform clients and web page is just one among them. Not always the most important and richest in features.

To give you comparison, even on PS3 which has web browser, it’s much better user experience to work with applications. In Poland, where I live, market for those apps is not very well developed and the only app I see on my PS3′s dashboard is AXN network in TV section. This particular app is in fact completely hopeless, offers only a few clips (I’d not even call them movies). Just like YouTube player but only with some very limited AXN sponsored content. Sony’s problem, opportunity is huge.

YouTube player is another good example which for mobile/portable devices provides dedicated application instead of a link (icon) to the web page. I believe it came originally from technological limitations. They stream videos using Flash technology and have experimental support for HTML5 <video> tag. There is big escape from Flash on mobile devices and not each and every device and platform supports well HTML5 yet. So YT gives an app to search and play their videos. I think having those apps guys behind YT do realize the potential of dedicated UX coming through application, not web page.

If you look at electronic publications, slow migration to e-paper is coming and killing need for rich content on web pages. Why? It’s great business opportunity hidden there. Some believe a rescue wheel for publishers who struggle how to monetize well from the web, while paper subscription is at constant decline.

We’re so much used to see web pages free, that still as Internet users, we barely like to pay to read anything on particular URL. Sites like www.nytimes.com give content for free and install ads anywhere possible. They of course have subscription for on-line content. WSJ has it too, but I suspect that most of their customers are corporate/business, not consumers.

Now take NY Times Reader for PC, phone, iPad, whatever. Designed to emulate daily issue, paid the same way as daily issue comes to your door. Full of dedicated content and with User Experience suited for the device. Highly welcomed product, I find among my friends, people are eager to pay for it.

What a rescue for newspapers indeed. Electronic distribution of many different kinds of goods (on-line content) wins more and more shares and with our shift toward public cloud, it’s just sentenced to win.

Now, going forward. What if all that becomes true. We will have Internet A -> with browser and web pages – Obsolete and with legacy stuff. Another Internet (B) will come with apps, that will just use the infrastructure for connectivity. Little bit just like in old good times but with much more mature platforms, APIs and standards than in 90ties (Webservices and JSON as good examples which we didn’t have in previous decades).

So how about that current, mindset war against RIA versus HTML5 improvements. If apps come to win, is HTML5 really relevant? I think yes. In many scenarios, it’s right now the easiest way to start a project portable across all these different platforms and screens. Biggest risk is, that it’s still immature (both in standards and browsers implementation) and fragmented.

Many HTML5 enthusiasts yell that HTML5 kills all need for any other development platforms and first of all need for Flash and Silverlight as RIA platform for the Web.

I’ve played with HTML5 little bit and to set it 1:1 to Flash or Silverlight, I must say it’s incomplete. To really compare both at features level, left side has to include:

HTML5 + JS DOM extensions coming with HTML5 + CSS3 + SVG

Then I can start talking about any comparison to what SWF and XAP files can render themselves.

But this post is not about bitching at HTML5 versus plugin-based RIA. In fact I believe that in reasonable time maturity of HTML5 will finally come true. Standard will become complete and all popular browsers will support all relevant features. To handle HTML+JS+CSS+SVG complexity, we just need different tools which are right now absent. But I believe they will come too, they just have to be split to suit needs of both coders and designers (the way Visual Studio and Expression Studio is positioned in MS offer as an example). Then and only then we can start verifying HTML5 as dominant platform for the Web.

But wait a second, let’s go back to the beginning. Wired said Internet will survive (infrastructure level and connectivity across devices), but Web will become obsolete. So why HTML5, if not for Web pages? Web apps – yes!

Right now for more and more platforms we can build web apps behaving like regular client apps for the devices.

Pads/Slates are good example of devices which I call hardware browsers.
So, if my window to the Internet is hardware device not the browser application for PC, why to need a software browser inside it?

Still one core feature currently dominant for daily Web usage – search. For websites and on-line services, even content and apps download you need search provider to find them in endless wastes of the Internet. But when we talk about Web Apps, search can be easily replaced by something we see becoming mainstream right now -> App Marketplaces, App Stores, Steams or whatever the service is called.

I’m not a conjurer, I can’t predict the future, but some things are happening right now. And if it all becomes true, think why Google is building marketplace for web apps that are on-line not for download. To be prepared..

Think how many businesses will change operationally if that happens. SEO for example. Big risk to be killed or 100% controlled by app store vendor. App stores are closed and I see no reason why to open them up. If killed, then we will most probably come back for traditional model for billboard like advertisements.

Purchasing C-class infrastructure to set farm of SEO servers to pimp up your pages faster will just not work. You’ll have to go to the apps store vendor and just like with NYC’s Times Square LCD screens, you’ll pay heck of money to be on main page as app of the week.


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