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Summary:

Last week, I went to the Future of Web Apps conference in London. As a non-developer, what I found most exciting about the event was that it offered me some insight into how our web apps will change thanks to new technologies, like HTML5 and CSS3.

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 18.28.09

Last week, I went to the Future of Web Apps conference in London. It’s an event that’s primarily targeted at developers, and much of the discussion was focused on newer web technologies and techniques, such as HTML5, CSS3 and geolocation. As a non-developer, what I found most exciting about the conference was that it offered me some insight into how the web apps we use will change as these new technologies become more widely available and developers figure out how to use them.

Small Pieces, Loosely Joined

The presentation that really brought home the potential of these next-generation web technologies for me was by Brad Neuberg, a developer who used to work at Google. Neuberg’s talk had the theme of “Small pieces, loosely joined,” and showed how technologies such as HTML5, CSS3, SVG, Canvas and WebGL can be used together to create stunning applications within the browser. The centerpiece of his presentation was the slide deck. It wasn’t a standard PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, but rather, a jaw-dropping, browser-based, 3-D slide demo, built using the very tools that Neuberg was talking about,. Neuberg could slickly navigate between the various slides in the presentation at will, and many “slides” contained a live demo of the technologies discussed. If you have Safari on Mac OS X Snow Leopard, you can check it out here. (Note: To navigate between the slides, use the arrow keys. You can zoom in and out using the space bar. The 3-D slide demo only works properly in Safari currently, but you can view a video of it in action in this blog post). While these technologies are impressive on their own, Neuberg’s demo showed that the way they can be easily combined in the browser will lead to real innovation in web apps over the next few years.

Ready for Prime Time?

It’s unlikely that we’ll see all of these technologies being used to their fullest potential for a little while yet, because they aren’t yet fully supported by all of the browsers. However, the various browser manufacturers seem to be racing each other to incorporate support as quickly as possible. Even Microsoft, lambasted for its poor support of web standards in previous versions of Internet Explorer, has upped its game with the release of a beta of IE9 that has decent HTML5 and CSS3 support. It won’t be long before many of these technologies are widely available, and developers can start using them in web apps; indeed, Neuberg mentioned that both Firefox 4 and Chrome betas would soon support the technology used in his slide demo.

It’s Not Just the Flashy Stuff

At the moment, many HTML5/CSS3 apps are flashy demos that show off the potential of these technologies, but while Canvas and SVG demos look cool, many of the most useful bits of HTML5 do stuff that’s mainly “under the hood.” For instance, these are tools that do things like enable geolocation. Because some aspects of these technologies are already available in many browsers, we’re starting to see them used in some web apps. Google has already started incorporating some HTML5 features into its web apps, for example, as has Facebook. While Facebook’s and Google’s use of HTML5 isn’t visually impressive like Neuberg’s slide demo, these companies are making their existing apps better by enabling innovative features like geolocation and drag-and-drop.

As technologies like HTML5, CSS3, SVG and WebGL start to become more mainstream, not only will the web apps we already use become more useful, but we should also see developers building web apps that do things that previously could have only been done by desktop applications. It’s an exciting time to be working on the web, both for the developers of web apps, who have a plethora of new technologies and techniques to experiment with, and for users of those apps.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what developers do with these new tools. What developments are you most looking forward to?

Image credit: Flickr user justinsomnia, licensed under CC 2.0

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  1. Yes. I’m looking forward to it doing what Flash already does and has done for years.

    Yes, HTML5 is the future. No, it isn’t really going to do anything that much better than Flash.

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    1. If that were really true, I don’t think people would be getting so excited by it. Sure, there is some overlap: some of the technologies here (SVG and Canvas, for example) have functionality that is similar to Flash’s. And HTML5 will obviously compete with Flash and Silverlight. But HTML5/CSS5/etc provide new ways to do interesting things; I think we’ll see web apps built using these techs that are much more feature-packed than anything built in Flash.

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    2. “Yes, HTML5 is the future. No, it isn’t really going to do anything that much better than Flash.”

      Crawl out from under your rock and see the future. If you cant see the true potential that this has then you may want to find a new line of work

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  2. Looking forward to WebGL in the Android browser, hopefully in the next release, Honeycomb. The mobile browsers need all the rendering improvements they can get to increase their performance and make it close to the rendering speed on a laptop.

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  3. We can’t wait for these technologies to be supported by all of the browsers. A large portion of our customer base uses Internet Explorer and can’t reap the benefits just yet. I know our developers look forward to using these technologies to create elegantly implemented new features and make the existing ones more useful.

    We recently added HTML5 drag and drop uploading to our app and are very excited about the possibilities that HTML5 provides. For those of you who are interested, you can check out our drag and drop implementation here:
    http://onehub.com/blog/posts/the-most-awesome-html5-uploader-ever-built

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  4. Nice graphics but six finger fist is very rare.

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    1. Ha ha, I hadn’t spotted that :)

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  5. I remember in the days when eveyone was going on about AJAX. I was getting tons of freelance flash work from people who had tried to dev web applications using AJAX and found that it is fundamentally impossible for one simple reason. HTML cannot save local state between pages in a seamless, quick and relatively secure way. The reason for this is that HTML is a *page based* technology and cannot be easily extended to create non page based content (i.e. web applications that have state transitions that resemble desktop applications). Think about all the big HTML web apps… google maps, facebook, etc. All page based with clunky server side state handling (or – as is the case of street view – flash overlays to give the impression of continious state!)

    This is absolutely fundamental, and HTML5 comes near to persistent client side state, but not near enough.

    I look forward to the extra freelance!

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    1. It’s all an opportunity, Sham.

      Good to see you around here, it’s been a long time since the Wrox days :)

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      1. Hi Simon. Yup, those were the days, taking sales away from The Man :)
        Out of the book/editorial game for a while, and writing Flex front ends for a startup gone mainstream. Almost like being on the FriendsOfEd startup rocket again!

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  6. [...] Helping to take the world into the service era are robust platforms, such as HTML5, that will provide feature-rich web apps to rock our worlds. Linking such apps with context will provide a more personalized mobile [...]

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  7. One thing that is never addressed in these html5/flash debates is tooling. Where is the tooling for html5 or even html 4 for that matter?
    Its one thing to show a couple of animations on a webpage. It somthing else to mantain a 100k+ lines of client code application in javascript and make it work on all browsers and platforms.
    Flex was created specifically for this purpose. Full OO,clean mvc, with a SINGLE debugger and profiler.
    How much productivity is lost debugging and optimizing for every single browser in a non flash/flex environment?

    So where’s the tooling? and don’t say textpad.
    People who proclaim the death of flash should sit down and write some full fledged webapps in javascript.

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  8. [...] secret sauce for the enhancements are improved techniques with JavaScript and HTML standards, with the latter constantly improving as HTML 5 continues to evolve and gain acceptance. There’s no doubt we’re currently watching the rise of the app economy with billions of [...]

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  9. Even if all this does is to replace Flash that is still a good thing. The less plugins that have to be installed the better.

    I’m also thinking that this will encourage more sites to incorporate these sorts of features. Flash requires additional tools that developers must acquire and it requires additional knowledge and training. If some of these obstacles are lessened then the technologies will be used more.

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  10. Six fingers is weird! ;)

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