Local web developers cash in on switch to HTML5

New developer language creates opportunities for Vancouver tech companies

Flash killed Steve Vestergaard's playerless video app, Clipstream – now Flash's slow demise is giving the app new life

If you own an iPhone or iPad, you have probably experienced the frustration of not being able to watch some videos or work with some documents.

Apple's operating system does not support Adobe Flash – the plug-in needed to watch many videos – and though you can open a Microsoft Word document on an iPhone or iPad, it has limited functionality.

Now, imagine the business opportunities that 35 million frustrated iPhone and 12 million iPad owners present for any business that can fix those incompatibility issues.

Some of the annoyances iPhone and iPad owners experience may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to HTML5, a dictionary of new tags for web developers that allows rich media, like video, to be inserted into web pages and played on a wide range of devices without having to create special apps or plug-ins.

Destiny Media Technologies Inc. (TSX-V:DSY) is one Vancouver company that hopes to ride the HTML5 wave with a web video application that requires no players or plug-ins.

And local firm PDFTron has developed a web-based viewer that will allow Word and PDF documents to be viewed and annotated in any browser, including on Apple devices.

"With HTML5, because it is browser-based language, it allows you to write cross-platform applications," said PDFTron co-founder Catherine Andersz.

PDFTron's WebViewer is offered as a toolkit, licensed to web developers, that allows them to build a document viewer into the basic code of a website.

Developers will no longer need to include plug-ins or create native apps for smartphones or tablets – one piece of code will render any document in any device, and allow users to make annotations.

Netizine, an American startup, is using PDFTron's WebViewer to create HTML5-based tablet applications that turn electronic magazines into social networks.

Destiny Media's Clipstream does the same thing with video that PDFTron's WebViewer does with documents: allows video to be embedded as a web object into a web page.

Currently, webmasters placing video on a website need to recreate it in various formats so it can play on Windows Media Player, Apple's QuickTime or with plug-ins like Flash or Silverlight.

Clipstream allows a single iteration of a video to be embedded as a web object without having to recreate it in multiple video formats.

Launched in 2000, Clipstream originally used Java. But it was shelved when Flash ended up dominating the video plug-in space.

It was only when Apple launched its Flash-incompatible iPhone and iPad that playerless video again became a going concern. Destiny Media has abandoned the Java version of Clipstream and recreated it with HTML5.

"Even though it's still branded as Clipstream, it's actually a new product," Destiny Media CEO Steve Vestergaard said. "HTML5 is allowing us to use the browser to directly render the video."

According to Alan Swain, vice-president of engineering for the Vancouver wireless accelerator Wavefront, the importance of HTML5 to business can't be understated. When Wavefront recently offered a seminar on HTML5 for developers, it sold out in 90 minutes.

While the HTML5 revolution might sound like something that only geeks and web developers should care about, all businesses need to pay attention to it, Swain said, especially any that are involved in developing mobile wireless technology.

According to the research firm Strategy Analytics, sales of HTML5-enabled smartphones are projected to hit one billion in 2013. •