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FEATURE: Is HTML5 the future of app development?

As soon as the web took off, people started looking at how they could use it to create interactive experiences.

Javascript would be pressed into service for simple games and effects, and people would be astonished to see something moving on a web page.

It wasn’t particularly easy to code, and as a developer at that time, I had the feeling I was twisting HTML and Javascript to do something nobody ever expected before.

They weren’t really the right tools for the job, but they were the only tools if you wanted to add interaction to web pages.

Of course, we’ve come a long way since then. It’s rare for a website not to use some kind of interaction or animation. Most of it we don’t even notice. Websites might roll down a panel of content when you click its summary, enabling them to give you quick access to what you want while making optimal use of screen space.

When Twitter rolls down the tweets to show you new ones, or opens a box on top of your Twitter feed to enable you to enter a reply, it’s performing the kind of tricks that in the early days of the web were only one step removed from witchcraft.

Clearly, the web’s an interactive medium now by default. But with the arrival of HTML5, there’s more excitement about the potential of the interactive web.

HTML5 is the latest version of the language web pages are written in, and it’s often used as a catch-all term for a range of other technologies that go with HTML, including CSS (for describing the design of web pages), and Javascript (for adding interaction). The latest iteration of these technologies makes it easier than ever before to dynamically create and update graphics on the screen.

At the same time, a community has built up creating libraries such as jQuery that make it easy to add interactive effects to web pages, or ImpactJS that is designed specifically for HTML5 game design.

Libraries like these help to increase a developer’s productivity because they enable developers to focus on game design and logic, rather than on reinventing the wheel for routine tasks such as creating a roll-down menu or calculating the collision detection in a game.

People have always enjoyed making impressive things with Javascript, but to me it feels like developers’ motivations are changing. It’s not about bending the technology against its will to create a tech demo any more. It’s about making cool things people want on the web, and competing with sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter that set people’s expectations for how engaging a website can be.

There’s more to HTML5 than this, though. There’s a point at which a website is interactive enough or adds enough value for us to think of it as software, even if it’s hosted on a website. The drawback of this kind of software is that it’s only available to users when they are online, it’s not easy for them to store on their computers, and it can be tricky for the developer to promote or sell browser-based content.

These are areas where the app store model excels: it makes it easy to find software you want and download it to your device, so a marriage between HTML5 and the app store seems like the perfect solution.

Intel’s made a smart move by creating an AppUp Encapsulator Web Service, which enables you to convert your HTML5 code into an app that you can distribute through stores powered by the Intel AppUp Center.

For web developers, or anyone else familiar with HTML5, it gives you a rapid way to create an app and prepare it for distribution. And if you sell the app (without publishing it online for free, I’d suggest), it gives you a way to sell your content, and make sure that users can conveniently download and install it.

What do you think? Is HTML5 the future of app development?

This blog post is written by Softtalkmobile, and is sponsored by the Intel AppUp developer program, a single channel for distributing apps to multiple devices, multiple operating systems, and multiple app stores.

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