Businesses have been urged to prepare for the arrival of HTML5 – the technology that underpins the next generation of the web.
Organisations should start evaluating HTML5 now and assess its effect on customers’ web browsing experience, says analyst group Gartner.
“If you do nothing, then you will be at a disadvantage with regard to competitors who are moving forward with new technologies,” says analyst Ray Valdes, in an interview with Computer Weekly.
HTML5 is used as shorthand both for the next version of the HTML web design language and for a raft of related advances in web technology.
Gartner predicts that it will have a significant effect on web design in about three years’ time and organisations need to start preparing now, says Valdes. "Organisations should start by uncoupling their websites from the underlying back-end systems," he says.
This will allow companies to develop websites, mobile and tablet applications without affecting the underlying IT systems.
“The presentation layer will evolve rapidly and there will be multiple front ends. You might have a native iPhone application, a native Android application and a mobile web application using HTML5 and a desktop application, all connecting to the same back end,” he says. "Organisations should be implementing these architectural changes today.
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“It is imperative for CIOs to start with this architectural restructuring of applications to enable evolution and allow systems to incorporate HTML5 as it matures."
Companies should also start evaluating the impact of HTML5 on the usability of their own websites. “This means running pilot projects and identifying which browsers your specific population is using, and what their capabilities are with regard to HTML5, because they are not uniformly distributed," says Valdes.
HTML5 will raise the baseline for browser technology by eliminating the need for extra browser plug-ins such as Flash or Silverlight.
Flash is likely to fade out over time and businesses need to be prepare for that, says Gartner.
“If you do nothing then, three years from now, most people will be on browsers and platforms that don’t use Flash, and you will basically have to scramble and move quickly to catch-up,” he says.
Flash may still be appropriate to develop applications that require good performance and can be used across a range of browser platforms, including older browsers.
“But it is also possible that you don’t need Flash. That what you need is to take your existing application and existing technology and improve it,” says Valdes.
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Gartner advises businesses to invest in analytics technology to help them understand how customers are using web applications, and what areas they find challenging.
“Have a design process that, once you identify challenges for users, you can incrementally change and improve those specific areas in your application to make the friction points smoother,” he says.
Once companies have a good design process in place, they can add new technologies as the user population shifts from older to newer browsers, he says.
Timing is crucial, however, and it would be a mistake to move to HTML5 too quickly. Facebook has had to step back from the technology after a major HTML5 programme led to performance issues.
“HTML5 will be mature enough, not just in the foundation technology, but also in the ecosystem of tools and commercial support for enterprises in about three years time,” Valdes says.
Today companies can use parts of HTML5 that are mature, as long as they consider whether they are supported by the browsers their clients are using.
But often companies can make significant improvements by redesigning their websites without introducing new technology.
“Our recommendation is to place as much emphasis on design as introducing new technologies like HTML5," Valdes adds.