What is HTML5 ?

HTML5 represents the latest iteration of webdesign practices across the web standards framework. The term HTML5 is, at its most basic, the latest web standard and specification for web page markup code.  These standards are created and issued by the W3C Consortium, which is the organisation responsible for steering the evolution of the web, its standards, capabilities and protocols.

HTML5 LogoHTML5 Logo by W3C

Web pages are written in HTML (Hyper-Text Mark-up Language) and HTML5 is the latest iteration of this language. It does away with outdated aspects of the language and introduces new features.

There are indications that HTML5 will become and official specification in 2014. So why is everyone talking about it now, you might well ask. Well, it's because certain browsers have released modern versions that support the functionality of stable elements of HTML5, thereby opening up a new development avenue for the webdesign agency to use, should it see fit.

Web Pages to Become Web Applications

Besides the technical standards, the term HTML5 has come to represent the next generation of multimedia web design and advanced funcionality embedded within the HTML document itself. A key element of HTML5 is the evolution of web pages into web applications and there are quite a few new elements of HTML code that will facilitate this migration. For example, you can now use mobile applications created in HTML5 directly from a vendors website without having to get this application through a dedicated application store (in the programming language required by that store).

These applications are saved in a bookmark on the desktop, but are in fact cloud based applications with a HTML5 interface. This change in application distribution, has led some to speculate that the application store as a repository for programs, could become a thing of the past..... but that's in the future.

So what does this mean for the user and the client? Well it will mean a richer user experience, more-interactive web pages, better graphics, less plug-ins, and for the client, it will represent a wider choice of functionality and opportunities to engage with their audience.

One of the often mentioned advantages of HTML5 is that it will not require a Flash video plugin in order to render videos within the browser window. This is true, and HTML5 will allow playing of other video formats in native formats without requiring conversion to Flash. But this is only one of the many new changes that encompass a wider vision for web page capabilities. We're already seeing games that can be played within the browser and 3D web pages, plus other great advances.

Semantics in HTML5

One of the advances in HTML5 is the widening of the specification to include semantic elements within the web page. Of course, semantics are all about meaning, and by providing a wider set of elements within the HTML document, HTML5 brings granularity and orientation to the document through meaningful embedded tags. Examples include the <figure> element which marks out the positioning of graphs & diagrams and is a revisiting of the <fig> element that was briefly introduced in HTML3. This element will be accompanied by the <figcaption> element that as the name suggests will provide descriptive meaning to the graph or diagram in question. With some similarity to the Alt tag, the increased granularity of semantic meaning is evident as more and more elements are created for specific kinds of content.

Other new elements include the <aside> element which wraps content that is somewhat related to nearby content in a section of its own, and the <article> element which creates a self contained unit of content within a page, such as a blog post, article or specific piece of independent information.

Is the standard internet browser ready for HTML5 ?

Currently, the website developer has a job to do to ensure that websites created under current HTML specifications are compatible across a range of browsers and different versions of those browsers. The same requirement will apply to HTML5 until adoption of HTML5 capable browers is widespread. So, in common with current requirements, web designers will have to ensure that they design in standards that are most likely to be compatible with the vast majority of browsers in use today.

Having seen a good few HTML5 websites, besides the "showcase" sites, there aren't currently many exhibiting a great leap forward between those sites and XHTML/HTML4 sites. Most are merely using the new semantic elements. That's not to say however, that that's not enough.

We expect that the main advantages of the new standards will not be fully realised until browser compatibility allows for more confident roll-out of new features. so at the moment its safe to say that all modern browsers support some of the new specifications and some browsers support more than others. So, even though capable browsers exist, the challenge will be getting users to upgrade their browsers. Some people are still using very old browsers. Therefore designing HTML5 websites is currently a game of picking and choosing the HTML5 features that will work across most browsers. No change there then!

Are you designing in HTML5, let us know what you think.

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