Beyond HTML5

This article first appeared in issue 240 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

‘HTML5’ today means ‘things the web does now’ – not just the HTML5 specification – including CSS3, Javascript APIs and so on. W3C has brought forward the 2022 finishing date to 2014 and is preparing “formal” drafts of HTML 5.1. So what comes after HTML5? Where is the web going, and what can we do about it?

Basic documents will still improve. Elements for dialog, more machine-readable and more easily localisable pages are likely. Markup for sentences? Probably not. Support for rich media in HTML will replace today’s plug-ins. Adaptive streaming and DRM in HTML are driven by the TV industry, but have other applications such as books and games. Responsive images will simplify making better layouts for any device.

Wearable displays, building-sized screens, and ‘second (third, fifth…) screens’ are coming. CSS is improving the web’s presentation, from vertical text – still horribly difficult – to better animation, and adapting content to the devices used to show it. Writing in Latin characters I have more fonts than I know, but as the web reaches ever further, publishing in scripts without a free font can breach copyright. More fonts will come, with better ways to use them.

With WebGL and new devices, 3D is coming – though my eyes don’t see in real 3D. But more people won’t see the web. Speech interaction, APIs to create and manipulate music or sound effects, and real-time communication enable the web to create, not just replay, cool sounds. The browser will replace a guitarist’s pedals; the sound desk; the synthesiser – all controllable with gestures (air guitar gets real!).

Traditional publishers are often better at making content accessible to all users, and some will improve accessibility on the web. Many users won’t notice, but millions who do will be very pleased – and better able to participate in the world around them.

APIs needed for apps are becoming web standards, while operating systems get less open. ‘Write once, run everywhere’ is true more often on the web. The games industry may lead as OS-based applications go ‘web native’. As devices need less performance optimisation, developers want to optimise production and distribution. Most people already have a web-capable device, counting proxy systems and SMS-gateways.

Fast-food smartphones?

Moore’s law, production figures, and some wild guesses predict a decade will bring 100-fold power improvements for today’s price, or today’s capabilities at a 99 per cent discount. Today’s smartphones could have price tags like hamburgers, in reach of even the very poor. The devices will know who we are, where we go, what we’re doing and what we’ll likely want.

New technology always introduces security risks: malware is older than the web. But worldwide, and increasingly powerful, the web is a target for black-hat developers to trick users into giving away something, or crack their systems and take it. Security on the web is an eternal arms race. Protecting users mixes technology, not letting them do dangerous things, and helping average users make correct decisions. New technology on the web gets better security reviews than ever; browsers protect against malware. Obscure statements such as “certificate chain cannot be verified (click ‘OK’)” are replaced by an explanation in human terms and clear options.

And money? For almost 20 years online payment has been a mess. Simple systems charge 30, 40 per cent or more; few easily handle less than a dollar and ecommerce is often still ‘cash-on-delivery’. A phone is the first real bank many people have. With improved systems, a billion more people will get ‘banked’. The efficiency could have an impact on poverty… or bring government fingers into new wallets. Mobile banking is huge in Kenya, and recently the country’s government voted itself more bonuses. Taxing mobile banking is one way suggested to fund it.

But Kenya also brought us Ushahidi, where crowdsourcing produces reforms and changes in government. This web thing might offer some interesting changes yet.

Photography: Michail Pishchagin

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