by February 4, 2011 0 comments

As developers, we need to be aware of how to use these new emerging web standards to make the next generation of web applications. Lets have a look at the Web of the future.

Look ma, no plugins!: The rise of native, in-browser multimedia

Right now pretty much anyone who is familiar with the internet has viewed video at least once. Same with audio. Yet when it comes to multimedia, only images are covered in the HTML 4.01 spec. The new HTML5 specification rights this wrong by including the audio and video tags, which allow native playback of such content inside the browser without any plugins. Browsers were quick to start work on this feature, with Opera having the first experimental support for the video tag back in 2007. Another thing which required plugins till now was dynamic graphics inside web pages.

HTML5 introduces the canvas tag which aims to have it natively inside the browser. By itself, the tag doesn’t do much, but the real power is when you use javascript to program the pixels within the area set by the canvas element. The result being that you now have the ability to do interactive graphics using just the web technologies you know and love, instead of firing up an expensive IDE and learning yet another tool.

Working in the offline world

What is with these web apps, asking to be connected to the web all the time! Wouldn’t it be nice to check your past emails even when you’re offline? How about that website which has your to-do list for the day? Or that site where people share presentations and documents? As the web is growing, we find ourselves more and more dependent on web applications and services than ever before. For web application to truly gain speed, it is necessary for them to have some way to work offline as well. HTML5 defines a special cache for this purpose, called Application Cache, which modern browsers have implemented. Using a simple file called a manifest file, you can tell the browser what to hold in that special cache for offline use. There are other standards which are related to storage. The W3C Web Storage API specifies a way to store simple key-value pairs offline, and the Web SQL Database API defines a way to store data in a much more strong way using databases. There is ongoing work on the IndexedDB API which will improve upon the WebSQL Database API by making a much more robust specification.

You’re no longer lost: Geolocation at your fingertips

LBS, or location based services seems to get people excited all across the industry. It has tremendous potential uses, right from advertising to augmented reality. Till recently, we did not have a way to determine a user’s location accurately keeping in mind the privacy of the user. The new W3C Geolocation API resolves this, by stating that browsers must take permission from the user when their location is shared, and also gives developers a great JavaScript API to programmatically access this data. The location is determined by a combination of the user’s IP address as well as Wi-Fi triangulation. On mobile devices, the cell phones GPS could also be used.

The next billion users

One thing is for sure. The Web is being consumed on many more platforms and devices than ever before. It is also being consumed by many more people, a lot of whom are from developing countries who are being exposed to it for the first time.

This new Web of ours, due to rising Internet penetration and lowering of data costs on cell phones, will not just be limited to the desks and laps of the rich, but will also be available in the pockets of the not so well off. This revolution is starting to happen. Mobiles are leading this revolution. A look at Opera’s monthly State of the Mobile Web Reports will tell that countries like Indonesia, India and Russia are big players in the mobile market, as well as african countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt. Many of the next billion people on the web will be introduced to it through a mobile phone. We need to be ready for this.

When it comes to the developed countries especially, we need to be ready for the fact that people will access the web not just using their laptops and desktops, or even their smartphones, but also using tablet devices, gaming consoles, flight entertainment systems, vehicles, and yes, even TVs.

The Web has been partly responsible for the decline in TV viewership, but oddly enough, it may turn out to be its savior too. TVs are starting to integrate the Web in such a way that you would actually want to watch sites like youtube on your TVs rather than your laptop. Work has also been done to add special widgets or small programs to do various tasks that you do online on your TV, like checking live scores while you watch your favorite crime drama or watching a reality show and checking your twitter timeline on what people are thinking of the episode in real time.

Are we there yet?

Many exciting open web standards have been implemented in modern browsers, and you can start implementing them in your own applications right now. However, many are still to be implemented. These are exciting times for a web developer, and we have much to look forward to as well. The Web of the future is richer, faster, more efficient and more beautiful than ever before. Its also much more available to people around the world. Finland has made broadband a legal right. Soon, more countries shall follow. The Web will become an integral part of the societal fabric, much more so than it is right now.

The web in heading in an exciting path, and we’re in for a fun ride.

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