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Rise of HTML5 in Geospatial Mapping

It's over an year since HTML5 came into limelight and is still evolving day by day. A recent report reveals that out of the 100 most popular websites, 34% are using HTML5, with search engines and social media sites leading the pack! Coming to the Geospatial industry, right from the beginning HTML5 has received encouraging response, owing to map friendly elements, like the canvas. Leading cloud based GIS service provider GIS Cloud made a switch to HTML5 very recently.
Geo-bloggers have always been positive about HTML5. Way back in January 2010, one blogger Pascal noted that HTML5 can indeed be the future of mapping. He observed that particularly with the integration of geolocation API to HTML5 specifications and following advantages offered by HTML5, it can be used by the GIS industry.

Advantages of HTML5 as noted by Pascal(original article)
  • Improved code
  • Greater consistency
  • Improved semantics
  • Improved accessibility
  • Improved portability
  • Geolocation
  • Client side database
Till date several mapping sites use flash based rendering to a large extent. Slowly the situation is changing as services have observed that Flash is not a web standard and is not supported on all devices. This situation holds more value nowadays with the rise in number of mobile devices which do not support flash. GIS Cloud observed that HTML5 Canvas can be ideal for map rendering as it works everywhere - right from desktops to tablets and smart phones. Bing Maps became the first online service to provide geolocation support to all desktop and mobile browsers that support the new HTML5 Geolocation APIs.

One major concern with mapping sites happens to be fast rendering of maps. Of late real-time map display is also expected in many situations. HTML5 caters to both these requirements. GIS Cloud's example deployments have shown the interactiveness and fast rendering of vector maps with millions of features. An article on Safe Sotware's blog, points out how HTML5 web-sockets can be used to bring real-time spatial data to the web. Safe's blogger Stewart lists the advantages of using web sockets
  • Less network traffic as web Sockets carry a very low overhead compared to HTTP (no headers)
  • Low latency and
  • Push capabilities
Given the support available for HTML5 in mobile devices, the maker of Flash, Adobe has announced that it will henceforth concentrate its efforts on HTML5 in mobile devices. This certainly is a food for thought. Behind this announcement came the Esri statement to address concerns of users -

With Adobe's announcement of discontinuing support for Flash on mobile device browsers, industry rumors on the lifespan of Silverlight, and the growing future of HTML5, many users have asked for Esri's perspective on this news.
Esri continues to fully support four distinct patterns of application development:
  1. JavaScript / HTML5
  2. Silverlight
  3. Flex
  4. Native device applications

Just one concern I have about widespread HTML5 adoption is Microsoft's Silverlight. Microsoft has never been keen about cross-platform support. Therefore, if GIS vendors favor Silverlight for some reason then forget mobile devices, users will again have to be back on square one with good old Windows. Meantime this article makes me feel that Silverlight may be out of scene soon.

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  1. Wow, very comprehensive review. I'm thinking about learning HTML5. I'm seeing more and more job/freelance listings asking for html5 music playerknowledge and so along with reading some of the online references you listed, I'm going to have to pick up the book as well. Really appreciated the chapter breakdowns.


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