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HTML5 still floundering in 'chicken and egg' era, says Intel

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IDF 2012 The new HTML5 APIs may have triggered an arms race among desktop browser vendors to see who could deliver the best performance and standards compliance, but when it comes to anything but a traditional PC, developers should be prepared for serious challenges – or so says an Intel rep.

"You're going to run into fragmented levels of performance and support and you'll need to be prepared for that," explained Kim Pallister, Intel's director of content planning, speaking at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Users of desktop browsers are typically quite capable of running apps that take advantage of the latest HTML5 APIs, Pallister said, because the auto-update features of browsers such as Chrome and Firefox ensure that they're running the most recent versions.

Even most Internet Explorer users will soon be able to take advantage of most of HTML5, he said, because IE benefits from the Windows update cycle, which is due for another refresh with the simultaneous launch of Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 later this year.

But mobile phones and tablets are a different matter, Pallister said – and here the level of performance and support for HTML5 features varies widely.

As an example, Pallister pointed to ratings from the site HTML5Test.com, which rates browsers for HTML5 standards compliance on a scale from 1 to 500. While the latest desktop browsers might score somewhere in the 350 to 450 range, he said, mobile phones typically only score in the mid- to high-300 range.

Those scores drop even lower when you look at the new generation of alternative connected devices that also include some browser functionality, including game consoles, TV settop boxes, Smart TVs, and internet-enabled in-vehicle systems, Pallister said. While modern Smart TV browsers seem to score between 200 to 350 on HTML5Test.com, other types of devices tend to rate even lower than that.

The browsers found on game consoles are the worst of the lot, often scoring below 100. In many cases, Pallister said, the manufacturers of such devices seemed to have thrown a browser on there just to say they'd done it, without giving much thought to what content it should be capable of accessing.

And, he pointed out, HTML5Test.com doesn't even try to benchmark performance, and what JavaScript benchmarks there are seldom take into account factors such as GPU-accelerated graphics rendering.

Pallister cautioned device makers that as more and more HTML5 apps become available and users grow accustomed to the technology, standards support "is going to become one vector of the competitiveness of your platforms."

But that day is not today. "There's a bit of a chicken and egg here," he said, noting that until there's a truly killer app for HTML5 that device makers can't afford not to support, browsers on alternative devices will continue to lag behind their desktop cousins.

For developers, then, the question of whether or not to build applications using HTML5 technologies really boils down to just how cross-platform they want those apps to be.

"The state of whether or not HTML5 is ready really depends on you sitting down and thinking 'ready for what?'" Pallister said, adding that many developers would be happy if their apps ran on only Chrome and Firefox, given the combined market share of both browsers.

Developers who want their apps and content to be available on Smart TVs and other devices, on the other hand, should be prepared to leap a few more hurdles.

"You're going to need to get the TV in-house, you're going to need to get the phone number of the guy who built the browser for that TV, and you're going to have to get it to work together," Pallister said. ®

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