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HTML5 is the way forward

HTML5 solves today's single-source file, compatibility and rendering problems


Our TOC theme for August was platforms and we transition to the theme of formats in September. In a couple of earlier interviews we talked about the future of iOS and Android as publishing platforms. I also wrote a piece about how the ultimate winner isn’t actually a platform at all. It’s time to bring in an expert and tell us whether HTML5 really is the future of publishing, both as a platform and a format.

I picked one of the smartest people I know for the job. His name is Sanders Kleinfeld and he’s a publishing technology engineer here at O’Reilly. That’s a fancy way of saying he knows digital publishing inside out. Sanders has worked extensively with HTML5 and is the author of our free ebook, HTML5 for Publishers.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • The biggest challenges today — Single-source files (where all updates are made in one place) and various compatibility problems are just two of the thorniest issues product teams currently face. [Discussed at the 1:25 mark.]
  • HTML5 helps deal with those challenges  — HTML5-based content is much more likely to render properly across a variety of devices and the Javascript ecosystem makes it even more flexible and powerful.  [Discussed at the 4:43 mark.]
  • EPUB3’s “chicken vs. egg” conundrum — Publishers aren’t likely to fully leverage EPUB3’s capabilities unless more ereader apps support it and ereader app vendors aren’t in a hurry because publishers aren’t creating a lot of EPUB3-dependent content partially because reader app support is limited. [Discussed at the 7:10 mark.]
  • EPUB3 vs. HTML5 — Sanders talks about an interesting example where the Nook was unable to properly render portions of the EPUB3 version of his ebook but the Nook’s browser displayed the HTML5 version properly. [Discussed at the 9:25 mark.]
  • What about portability? — The assumption is that an HTML5 solution requires a live web connection but local caching eliminates that problem. [Discussed at the 12:30 mark.]
  • Native apps offer a slight advantage — We’re likely to see more device features accessible via HTML5 but security concerns will probably prevent access to all the device’s capabilities. [Discussed at the 15:25 mark.]
  • How will the ebook landscape change in the next 2 years? — The distinction between ebook and app will become more pronounced where EPUB will address the former but HTML5 is the likely solution for the latter. [Discussed at the 18:10 mark.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

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Comments: 5

  1. Thanks Alice. I’d like to think that even though HTML5 offers way more functionality than is required for a narrative text it can still do that job just fine. So if all (or the bulk of) future publishing took place with HTML5 we’d have all the benefits Sanders talks about. I’d also like to think that putting a narrative text work into HTML5 requires no more work than making it available in EPUB format, for example, so the investment is pretty much the same.

    You’re right about device irrelevance. We seem to be heading towards an Amazon-and-Apple-only device future, I’m afraid. I’m still holding out hope that B&N will do something interesting with that investment from Microsoft for their NewCo venture.

    • I think you’re absolutely right about HTML5 being fine for narrative text while also offering the benefits of easily adding video, audio and other enhancements. It seems to me that  publishers may be holding back from adopting HTML5 for fear there’ll be something even better tomorrow. I feel that way these days when deciding whether to buy a new TV or computer- I am sure that some breakthrough technology will be announced as soon as I walk out the door with my purchase!

  2. I would like to see this conversation extended to include Apple’s new *.ibooks format.  Is it a harbinger of the future  or an aberrant evolutionary branch that will die out?  Does it push the HTML 5 envelope or simply avoid it where convenient?

    • I like what Apple attempted to do with iBooks but I think it’s a dead end because it’s for the iOS platform only.

    • I think iBooks Author is quite innovative and forward-thinking in terms of its approach to ebook design. When you create the layout of a book using iBooks Author, you’re simultaneously creating two presentations of the material: one for portrait view and one for landscape view. Responsive design is clearly the future of the Web, and I think it was very prescient of Apple to put it at the heart of the IBA format.

      Less innovative is the approach to HTML5, which is somewhat marginalized in the IBA format. HTML5 development in iBooks Author is relegated to a “widget”, and is basically treated as a plugin you add to the ebook, rather than being integrated organically into the entire ebook creation process. Additionally, all HTML5 widgets must be created using Dashcode, another Apple application that is part of XCode. So, a developer’s flexibility in both crafting HTML5 content and integrating it into an ebook is quite constrained.

      Overall, I think iBooks Author is a great tool that I think has some real staying power. I think it’s one of the best applications out there for creating beautiful ebook content for iPad, and allows you to integrate multimedia and interactive elements (video, quizzes, etc.) without having to do any programming. 

      But, as Joe notes, the ebooks you create are iOS-only. I think the future of cutting-edge, cross-platform ebook development lies in the open Web: HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript.

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