HTML5 rising: mobile may now drive desktop apps

Will mobile and desktop simply be two different types of devices running the same apps?
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

It used to be that whatever Web functionality you got over your mobile phone was a scaled-down rendering of what was available to desktops.  Now, thanks to monumental advances with smartphones, and the rise of HTML5, the equation has flipped -- a lot of innovation is happening in the mobile space, and the work in this space -- the "apps," the app stores -- is spilling over into the desktop computing arena. (Does anyone remember desktop computing?)

After all, the smartphones now on the market are, for all intents and purposes, handheld computers, only with smaller screens. Is the iPad not simply a larger iPhone?

'HTML5 will diminish the difference between desktop and mobile environments'

Over the past couple of weeks, we've been talking about the rise of HTML5, an incomplete standard that is gaining a lot of traction in the mobile app space for front-end presentation. It seems HTML5 is going to get a lot hotter, and apparently not just in mobile.

These insights were confirmed in a discussion on the course of mobile and desktop apps recently led by my colleague here at ZDNet, Dana Gardner, who was joined by Roger Entner, senior vice president and head of research and insights in the telecom practice at the Nielsen Co, and Wayne Parrott, vice president for product development at Genuitec. (Dana's discussion is also available as a podcast or via transcript.)

As Entner put it, for standard applications across the spectrum, "HTML5 will take us miles forward and diminish the difference between the desktop and the mobile environment."

In the mobile space alone, HTML5 has potential to provide a universal deployment environment for the highly fragmented mobile space. As Parrot put it: "If you take a look at the current state of native mobile app development, it's really not much better than it was five years ago. You still see a strong fragmented programming model base, different operating systems, and different hardware capability. It's still a mess. You pretty much have to pick a subset of devices that you want to focus on." HTML5, he explained, enables app developers to "treat it as kind of a common run-time that you would program across pretty much all of the new emerging smartphones."

HTML5 will bring greater agility and elegance to mobile Web applications, Parrot also pointed out.

As anyone with a browser-enabled smartphone before the advent of iPhone and Android can attest, mobile Web was a fairly clunky experience, with slow downloads and no integration with anything.  As Parrot also explained, "prior to HTML5 talking about mobile web was pretty much a joke. Mobile web was an afterthought in the phone market. You had these small, dinky displays. Most of them couldn't even render most standard HTML."

Now, HTML5 provides a strong Web programming model for both mobile and desktop apps, says Parrot.

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