HTML5: Are we there yet?

HTML5 has been a buzz word in the web development community for the last three years and has been heralded as the saving grace of the Web

In 2008, most developers were shocked when Ian Hickson, editor of the HTML5 specification, estimated in an interview with TechRepublic that the HTML5 specification would only become a W3C recommendation by the year 2022.

Thankfully the Big 5 Browsers – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Chrome and Safari – have already implemented many sections of the HTML5 specification that they deem stable (meaning few changes are expected before it is finalised). This early adoption has meant that the momentum of HTML5 web development has picked up rapidly in recent times. 
 
So does this mean we can use all the HTML5 parts that have been implemented in these modern browsers? The answer to this question is slightly more complicated than a quick yes or no.
 
On the one side we have users who run the latest version of the browsers listed above, plus there are millions of mobile devices running Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating system that come with browsers that support many of the HTML5 features, allowing developers to create rich Web experiences for them.
 
On the other side is the problem of many users not being aware of how outdated their browser is or worse, not being able to upgrade or switch to another browser. Also, while Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari users tend to upgrade quickly, IE users tend to stick to the version that came pre-installed on their computer. 
 
According to the latest statistics from StatCounter, Internet Explorer 6, 7 and 8 still enjoy around 32% of the user share around the world.
 
To make matters worse, Internet Explorer 9 (which is the only version of IE that supports some HTML5 features) cannot be installed in Windows XP. This means that a lot of users will be stuck on the older versions of Internet Explorer unless they switch to one of the other browsers.
 
While this paints a rather bleak picture, thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom for HTML5 today
 
By adopting the correct approach, you can provide users of modern browsers the best possible experience right now. There are two possible ways of doing this: Progressive enhancement or graceful degradation.
 
With the progressive enhancement approach to development you establish a baseline of the functionality that you will offer visitors to your website regardless of which browser they are using. Then by using feature detection with a library like Modernizr, you enhance the experience for users that visit your site with browsers that support the new HTML5 features.
 
Alternatively, with the graceful degradation approach you provide enhanced functionality by default and then serve alternative content or reduced functionality to users on older browsers.
 
Both approaches have their pros and cons which will need to be weighed up before deciding on which one to adopt for a project.
 
Over the last 12 months, Quirk’s Developers have spent a considerable amount of time researching HTML5 and getting up to speed. We have even started using it on a number of projects – wherever the opportunity allowed us to. The learnings from our research and practical experience have led us to believe that the time has come where you can start to adopt HTML5 as your standard by applying the correct development approach to your projects. 
 
Our transition to HTML5 will be a gradual one where we will initially focus on using the new HTML5 elements that not only allow you to describe a Web page in a more semantic way (great for accessibility and search engines), but also provides an enhanced experience for the user in supported browsers. 
 
It’s no longer a case of if HTML5 will be the next big thing; it’s rather a question of how long before it takes over. HTML5 is being applied far wider than just the Web browser as well. Microsoft recently revealed that in Windows 8, developers will be able to write applications in HTML5. Similarly, there are tools like Phonegap that allow you to write native mobile applications in HTML5.
 
The future of HTML5 has never looked so good and with Quirk’s early adoption of the technology, we believe we have given ourselves the best possible chance to be at the forefront of development with HTML5.

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