Support for HTML5 continues to grow

Peggy AlbrightThe mobile industry's efforts to push forward with HTML5 continue to gain traction. Developers are ramping up their efforts to work with the standard, and the technologies needed to distribute and run these apps continue to advance and improve.

Progress in the development of hybrid HTML5 apps, which combine the use of HTML5 and native capabilities, was characterized by appMobi last week. The company, which is one of many firms providing cross-platform application development platforms for developers, said that it has 50,000 active app developers using its platform to create HTML5 hybrid apps, five times the number of developers that were using its tools a year ago.

Each of the appMobi developers working with HTML5 has built at least one HTML5 hybrid app, and 25 percent of the developers have created three or more apps, the company said. The majority of the apps are published to both iOS and Android-related app stores. The types of apps created with HTML5 are mostly media products, which represent 40 percent of the apps, followed by games (35 percent), retail (15 percent) and others (10 percent).

Separately, mobile browsers are improving their support for HTML5. Most mobile browsers offer some level of HTML5 capability but because the standard is still evolving, and won't be complete until 2014, browser vendors have used it inconsistently and the performance of apps operated via their browsers may differ. Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Safari on iOS devices has been considered among the better-performing mobile browsers for HTML5 apps, but it is now getting some new competition.

Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chrome for Android browser, which is expected to help spur creation and adoption of HTML5 apps, is now officially available. The Chrome for Android browser has been available in a beta version for Android devices that use the Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) version of the OS, and Google has now officially released the completed version of the browser in Google Play for use on Android 4.0 and later devices. The company also announced that Chrome for Android will become the new default Web browser for Android devices beginning with the newest Android update, version 4.1, called Jelly Bean. The forthcoming Asus and Google Nexus 7 tablet will become the first Android device to ship with the new browser pre-installed.

Last week Electronic Arts, an early developer for HTML5 gaming apps, said it is ready to launch Strike Force, an HTML5-based 3D multiplayer game that for now will run exclusively on devices that run Chrome for Android. Because the market has been skeptical about HTML5's ability to program sophisticated game applications, EA's announcement may motivate other game developers to consider the technology. The company said the game had virtually no latency, which is fundamental to many game applications.

Also, Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) pledged to support Mozilla's HTML5-based Firefox mobile operating system, which is scheduled to reach consumers early next year. Sprint is one of seven operators now backing the open-source Firefox OS, previously known under the working title of Boot to Gecko. Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Telecom Italia and Telenor also announced they will support the platform. They join Telefónica, which was the first carrier to officially sign on with Mozilla back in February. Telefónica is scheduled to begin selling Firefox-powered smartphones in Brazil in early 2013 through its Vivo unit.

Mozilla also announced that it has upgraded Firefox for Android and made that browser available for download in the Google Play store. The new browser, previously available as a beta version, is faster and easier to use than previously and offers new HTML5 capabilities intended to help developers create rich Web apps and websites.

While browser technologies will help customers find and execute HTML5 apps, developers will still want distribution mechanisms to help customers find their products. The Facebook HTML5 storefront, introduced this year, has made a start in this direction for apps that are tied to the social network.

Mozilla has said that it will use the Mozilla Marketplace to give developers an outlet for distributing cross-platform applications optimized for any HTML5-enabled device, regardless of operating system. That would represent a meaningful and important addition to the ecosystem because it would provide a neutral marketplace for developers and customers. There are still a lot of unknowns about this marketplace, however, and the industry must await its introduction and learn more about its business model before knowing how to assess its impact or using it to distribute HTML5-based apps.--Peggy