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HTML5 – The future of digital content delivery?

What is HTML5?

HTML5, preceded by HTML4, is the latest version of the HTML standard, which will take internet browsing to a whole new level. Started in 2004, HTML5 is the current project of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) that includes companies such as AOL, Apple, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nokia, Opera etc.

HTML5, while still under development, is basically an enhanced version that better supports applications such as embedded audio, video, graphics, client side offline and online data storage and interactive documents within a web browser on the World Wide Web. Browsers such as Opera, Safari, Internet Explorer and Firefox have already started adding limited HTML5 support to their latest versions of browsers, offering users audio and video embeds, access offline web apps, storage etc.

HTML5 – The future of the web?

With all major web players competing neck to neck with each other to provide major HTML5 features in their browser applications, it is hard to ignore it as the future of the web. Industry honchos such as Steve Jobs and Dean Hachamovitch (GM – Internet Explorer) proclaim that HTML5, with it superior array of tools to fulfill the needs of modern multimedia-rich web applications, will be the future of the web.

The launch of the iPad was a major deciding factor in ushering the HTML5 generation, with Apple releasing a list of ‘iPad ready’ websites having support for some of the features that HTML5 provides.

Steve Jobs while justifying Apple’s refusal to allow Flash player on iPhone/iPad, wrote – “New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too)”.
Highlights of HTML5

Audio/Video Support
One of the main highlights of HTML5 is that it enables audio/video content to be played in a browser without the need for plug-ins and with native hardware acceleration. We still have to note that advanced video capabilities like streaming videos are still not specified in the HTML5 draft specifications, and are not yet implemented by the major browser vendors.

HTML5 provides new tags which help to improve the Symantic web, and describe the contents of the document in an easier method, allowing search spiders to understand the content of the document.

HTML 5 offers enhanced forms with improvements to text inputs, search boxes and other fields
and provides better controls for validating data, focusing, interaction with other page elements on the page and various other improvements.

The new HTML5 geolocation APIs make location, whether generated via GPS or other methods,
directly available to any HTML5 compatible browser-based application. This is the key to making
location aware applications using this new specification.

Client-side database
HTML5 provides a new SQL-based database API that can be used for storing data locally. This allows a developer to save structured client-side data using a real SQL database. This allows content developers to make more powerful client side applications using HTML5.

Offline Application Cache
An offline application HTTP cache that can be used to make sure applications are available even when the user is disconnected from their network. All browsers have a cache but they have been very unreliable for delivering whole pages and applications.

Smarter search and sharper focus on Web application Requirements
HTML5 provides marketers with new ways to tell search engines about their content, making it easier to find and identify all content on a site. HTML5 makes search on the web smarter by enabling easier page segmentation that can be treated as separate entries. HTML5 makes it easier to build search front-ends, wikis, real-time chat, drag-and-drop tools, discussion boards and many other modern web elements into any site, and have them work more efficiently

HTML5 – Impact on future versions of ePUB

While currently ePUB does not support HTML5, the IDPF Working group have identified several limitations of the format. The Working Group’s mission is to update ePUB to expand its applicability as a delivery format, and as a Cross-Reading System interchange and production format that should be adopted, on a global basis, for textbooks, academic, STM, digital magazines, and news delivery, and facilitate increased interoperability across Reading Systems.

Some of the shortfalls of ePUB as an Universal eBook format are listed, although most of these shortfalls can be addressed by adopting HTML5.

    1. Lack of rich media and interactivity support. These capabilities are necessary for interactive digital textbooks and digital magazines, and more generally to enable eBooks to evolve into a new medium, rather than simply be digital equivalents of paper books.
    2. Need for enhanced global language support.
    3. Need for enhanced article and metadata support.
    4. Need for a means to convey page-level layouts and target multiple display surface sizes in a single publication. This is a barrier to supporting books with more complex information designs, as well as digital magazines.
    5. Need for enhanced navigation support.
    6. Incomplete alignment with broadly-adopted Web standards. Since most distributed Reading Systems utilize Web browsers to present content to end-users, and many standalone Reading Systems utilize Web browser rendering technologies in their implementations, it is desirable to improve alignment with Web standards as implemented by modern browsers.
    7. No native support for mathematics. The lack of a native schema to represent mathematical equations (MathML) limits applicability and interoperability of eBook in the textbook and academic publishing segments.
    8. No clear relationship to approved national and international standards. While EPUB has enjoyed broad adoption, the relationship to national and international standards has not been clearly articulated. In addition, no roadmap has been provided to address these questions in the industry.

The potential solution to fully or partially address many of the above limitations is to consider adopting new features being standardized as part of HTML5.
HTML5 – Impact on publishers and readers

For publishers and readers alike, HTML5 reading would offer several benefits. The ability to provide and view media rich and interactive content, with enhanced search and navigation options, rich video and audio embeds, global storage and access to content, mathematical, glossary and annotation support are few of the many reasons HTML5 is set to be the future of reading.

One caveat to note is that HTML5 is not yet a final specification, and it will evolve till the WHATWG team finalizes the specification. So any feature currently in the specification could change while it’s being finalized.