Seven apps making the most of HTML5

Exemplary HTML5 app No. 6: HootSuite

When the group at HootSuite started to build a platform to knit together all of the social networks in our lives, it recognized that HTML5 was a natural platform. HootSuite would use the Web to aggregate the Web. The resulting tool allows you to watch all of your social networks in one central website, a feature that HootSuite gives away to light users and sells to enterprise and corporate users.

HootSuite’s servers collect all your social networking data after using OAuth authentication to connect to your social accounts. The servers feed this to your browser using AJAX calls, and the browser layout does the rest.

The Web app uses HTML5’s local storage key/value database extensively to cache information and limit the amount of Web traffic. This is most useful for mobile users or anyone who happens to be on a metered plan for connecting to the Internet.

Exemplary HTML5 app No. 7: Angry Birds

Angry Birds for Chrome

We know it and love it as an app for your iPad, but you can get a copy of Angry Birds from Google Chrome and run it on your desktop in a browser. There are even skyscraper ads right alongside the game just like a regular website. Now you can goof off with your browser just as you would with your smartphone.

The souped-up HTML5 Canvas tag and its many drawing operations lies at the heart of Angry Birds, as with many other HTML5 games, like the Atari Arcade built by Microsoft. The routines give programmers all they need to draw the artwork for the game. Many of the old libraries (such as the physics library) at the core of Angry Birds that were built for Flash are being rewritten to support HTML5 applications drawing on the canvas.

Getting Flash out of the loop promises to eliminate all of the glitches that appeared when the Flash plug-in and the browser couldn’t get along.

HTML5 cautionary tale: Facebook mobile app

Not everyone is smitten with the HTML5 path. Some who invested heavily in HTML5 are backing away. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called it a big strategic mistake to create Facebook’s mobile products with HTML5. The solutions worked, but they were sluggish and glitchy because the browsers just weren’t fast enough to handle all of the data. Native apps are much better at limiting the memory footprint, and that’s often the most important limitation for a programmer working on the mobile platform.

Fans of HTML5 acknowledge these complaints, but it’s not like native apps are perfect, easy to write, and portable. The solution, they suggest, is to keep your aspirations in check and use the best of the new features. Don’t try to display a bazillion triangles in a first-person shooter that runs in your browser. Work with the new tags and back-end enhancements like the local database. Start with a simple editor and build slowly. The advantage of HTML5 is that you can roll out new features one at a time without asking the user to go through all of the grief of upgrading.

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