Susan Kuchinskas explores how the new HTML5 standard could offer new opportunities for in-car app developers and the telematics industry
HTML wasn’t made with cars in mind.
The 19-year-old computer mark-up language was originally designed to format text on an electronic page.
It is a testament to the creativity of the development community that HTML is able to provide the rich media we enjoy on the Web.
Now, HTML is getting a makeover—one that should be extremely useful for mobile application developers and the telematics industry.
The new standard—HTML5—is application-centric, smoothing the way for rich-media apps delivered over smartphones and mobile devices.
“HTML5 is an enabling technology that finally lets you build very rich applications, particularly for mobile devices, that duplicate Flash and even applications written for Windows, Java, or the iPhone,” says Michael Mullany, vice president of products and marketing for Sencha.
Sencha is a provider of mobile development platforms, including Sencha Touch, an HTML5 framework for mobile app development.
New tags allow developers to embed audio and video into content, while leaving the playback mechanism to be determined by the browser.
The benefit to telematics? HTML5 allows smartphones and in-car browsers to easily play the media without the need for plug-ins.
“You can embed a video object in your page, so you don’t have to use Flash or DirectX controls,” Mullany explains.
“You can also embed a piece of audio by just embedding an audio tag. You won't need players anymore.”
Safe and useful
The new HTML5 standard better suits the dispersed, mashed-up quality of much of today's mobile content, according to Leo A. McCloskey, vice president of marketing for Airbiquity, a provider of service delivery infrastructure for connected vehicles.
“At the code level, it makes no distinction between a local resource on the phone and what’s in the cloud,” he says. (For McCloskey’s thoughts on consumer customization, see ‘Airbiquity: “Consumers expect services tailored to them from their selected information sources”’.)
In the current standard, every element on a Web page needs to be tucked into the same folder on a server; with HTML5, McCloskey says, “Every element can be wherever it needs to be.”
Another important feature for the telematics industry is the ability to separate content from presentation.
This allows HMI designers to translate Web content into a format that will be the most useful, as well as the safest, for drivers.
Or, at least, that's the dream.
“It’s not an automated thing you can do and still preserve a high-fidelity experience,” Mullany warns. “You will still need to tweak your content.”
Geolocation, geolocation, geolocation
Another important feature is a geolocation API.
This feature could be used to streamline local search, for example.
A driver could simply say ‘gas station’ instead of having to specify a town or postal code, the current norm for local search.
Certainly geolocation is available via the cell phone or GPS device, but with HTML5, Mullany says, “The location is in a standard format for the developer to use. It's a very, very simple call.”
Another advantage for providers of in-car apps is the large pool of developers who are already expert in building Web applications. (For more on app developers, see ‘Why telematics firms need to work with wireless developers’.)
Because HTML5 applications can be delivered by a server in the same way that Web pages are, there’s no need to visit an app store.
A driver’s smartphone can simply connect to the application.
The good news for app providers is that this feature will reduce download attrition and increase opportunities for an app to go viral, Mullany says.
Fans of an app will be able to send each other the link in the same way they swap videos. (For more on mobile apps, see ‘Telematics and mobile apps: Building a big enough market’.)
But there’s a caveat for those automakers that already have app stores or plan to have them.
Eliminating the app store also means bypassing the OEM’s tool booth and, more importantly, its safety testing.
The next-generation Web
Another important aspect for the telematics industry is that HTML5 allows for local storage of the application, meaning apps will work even if the connection is dropped, for example, when driving through remote areas with no coverage.
“With Flash storage on the phone, they can pack 32 gigs into a phone for very little money, and it takes up very little space,” Mullany says.
While locally running apps may not take more computing power, they may require more bandwidth, according to McCloskey, depending on what the app is grabbing off the Internet.
But with the advent of the next-generation Web, automotive app developers don’t need to worry that their existing apps will crash, according to McCloskey. (For more on telematics and the next-generation Web, see ‘What telematics firms can learn from Web 2.0 ’.)
Plus, HTML5 is backwards compatible with HTML4, and the changeover will be gradual.
Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.
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