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The HTML standard: What’s next

Siw Grinaker on

See what you can expect of tomorrow’s web as the HTML standard slowly evolves.

While the HTML standard is progressing, it is certainly more like an evolution than a revolution. The W3C working draft of HTML 5.3 has been underway since October 2018, and there’s a lot of interesting development on HTML and the web.

One of the main drivers behind web development is the Google Chrome project, and the chief common denominator among most of the progress we see and will continue to experience is Progressive Web Apps. There is an enormous amount of PWA related technology where improvements have only scratched the surface, and Chrome’s involvement can be seen as a forerunner to the more general web standards.

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Here are a few upcoming developments relating to HTML and the web:

Payment request API

Driving the development of e-commerce and transactions on the web is the Payment request API, which aims to improve mobile web checkout, and the acceptance of credit cards and other payment services and solutions.

This API will essentially democratise payment. For instance, when customers are shopping in an online store, the web app will request their preferred payment method—which is integrated into the OS and the browser. Customers can then freely install their preferred transaction tools, like Apple Pay, PayPal, Google Pay, Klarna, and Vipps.

This way there is no need to retrieve credit card information, as it will be a more tightly integrated service than before for the end user. There will be less work for the vendors and producers to receive payment as well, and there’s no need for them to ally with any specific transaction service.

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Service workers becoming a part of the W3C standard

Service workers are JavaScript files running separately from the main browser thread, being able to intercept network requests, cache or retrieve resources from the cache, and deliver push messages. Now service workers will become a part of the W3C standard.

Service workers form the very basis for PWAs. They enable websites to load without being online, to run code on your device without downloading pages, to listen to events, and more. With PWAs, you can get many exciting use cases—faster loading times, offline push notifications, instant transitions, light design, and app-like user experiences.

Direct interaction with local device file system

With the new Native File System API, web apps can read or save changes directly to files and folders on the user’s device. This means that double-clicking a spreadsheet on your computer will open directly as a web app, with the possibility of saving back to the local file.

When this technology has matured, you will be able to set PWAs as the default action of a file on your OS, instead of a native app—bringing all the benefits of PWAs into the fold.

As a side note, we can see that the gap between native apps and the web has become smaller. In some areas, the gap is fully closed—for instance Google Docs. This web app in most use cases is right on par with native apps in terms of functionality, even adding the benefits of the web by seamless collaboration and sharing.

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Edge on Chrome

Microsoft Edge is Microsoft’s modern web browser, originally built with EdgeHTML and Chakra engines. However, in 2019 the browser was rebuilt using Chromium, leading the historically conservative Microsoft to join Google as forerunners for the PWA technology.

We now see web apps on their way to app stores like Google Play and Microsoft Store, which further blurs the line between web and native.

Immersive web, WebAuthn and WebAssembly

The web is becoming more immersive with the support of virtual reality and augmented reality through the WebXR Device API. Increased immersion opens up for several new consumer and producer scenarios, customer journey touchpoints, and business possibilities.

Ensuring secure authentication is a perennial problem on the web, but WebAuthn and the Web Authentication API gives web apps access to authenticators. This practically means that end users can use biometrics or other means to securely log into web services and PWAs.

WebAssembly is an emerging standard for a binary instruction format for a stack-based virtual machine. For example, Microsoft allows you to code in .NET and compile to WebAssembly. This can make the web faster and more able to assume the mantle of the heavy stuff—as it is no longer mandatory to do it in e.g. JavaScript.

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The letdown: Apple

Once upon a time Apple was one of the most innovative companies in the digital world. Now they are acting as if they were Microsoft when the latter dominated the world with Internet Explorer 6.

Apple has essentially slowed down all web development to protect their own ecosystem. To be fair, the American firm hasn’t stopped progress completely, but they don’t exactly drive innovation. The bottom line? We all know how it went for Microsoft: the obliteration of IE and the irrelevancy of Windows.

The conclusion is that the future OS is the web browser—it is the future application platform for most people. But: There will always be someone in need of native application solutions that are not standardised enough for the web.

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Even with native apps and the fragmentary omnichannel reality of today and tomorrow, the web is not going away. The web has many advantages benefiting virtually everyone—from time to get what you require and no need for an app store, to endless possibilities for reuse and development speed. The URL alone is a valid reason for continuing to use the web.

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Frequently asked questions

What are progressive web apps?

A PWA is a lightweight website that can double down as an app on your smartphone, with fast loading, rich features, and a convenient app icon—without actually being a native app.

What are examples of PWAs?

Twitter, Starbucks, Flipboard, Uber, Housing.com, Pinterest, Digikala, Soundslice, 2048 Game, MakeMyTrip, Padpiper, Yummly, Lancôme, Alibaba, Wego.

What are the business benefits of PWAs?

Quick and easy installation, always the newest and most secure version, and faster loading times lead to increased conversion rates from leads and customers.

Will PWAs replace native apps?

Yes, but not for everyone. Games and other high performance related apps will probably keep on going native, but most native apps struggle with retention and app stores are overflowing. PWAs rank in search and can generate more revenue.

Topics: 
progressive web apps
HTML
web