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7 apps making the most of HTML5

Peter Wayner | Oct. 23, 2012
HTML5 is more than a few years old and no longer a curiousity. Web pages that used to simply emulate a piece of paper are now expected to do something snazzy to justify their existence. Thanks to HTML5, along with innovations in JavaScript and CSS, interactive logic is a standard strategy for Web programming, and full-fledged Web apps are everywhere. All it takes is a few extra tags to rewrite the world's software as a Web page.

Aviary uses HTML5's Canvas object, a surprisingly complicated addition to HTML. The standard offers the basic ways of drawing text or lines, and a number of Web apps use these features to draw graphs. But underneath all that is a large collection of tools for working with individual pixels. This is what Aviary uses for some of the fancier enhancements.

Exemplary HTML5 app No. 5: Scribd

Scribd began as an elaborate Flash application for displaying documents. Its goal was to become the leading repository for documents on the Web, and only Flash gave it the font support and precise placement necessary to render accurately the wide range of documents the world has produced.

Two major features made it possible for Scribd to duplicate much of this with HTML5: Web fonts and canvas. Web font enhancements have made it possible for Scribd to better capture fonts used in documents. Until recently, most browsers only had access to a few basic examples of a serif, sans serif, or monospaced font.

The improved HTML5 canvas enables Scribd to draw these letters and other bitmaps at arbitrary positions on the screen. Scribd's HTML5 version is now simpler because the incompatibilities caused by having to use the Flash plug-in are out of the loop. The other features of the browser also work with the documents -- which wouldn't happen when relying on the Flash plug-in. You can, for instance, select sentences or words directly with mouse clicks. Voilà. Complex documents are now treated just like regular websites.

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

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.


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