2011 is quickly drawing to a close and this year has seen many developments with web. Smartphones and Apps seem to be playing an even greater role in our every day lives, HTML 5 and CSS 3 is growing, we’ve seen browsers rise and fall and websites succumb to changes in search engine algorithms.
2012 looks set to accelerate the evolution of web technologies used at the office and on the move and will to continue to intrigue and challenge us as developers.
Here are some of my own web development predictions for 2012:
A new era in web 3D
2011 saw many impressive 3D websites and browser based 3D games, using both real-time and pre-rendered 3D techniques and I would expect to see much more of this, especially toward the end of 2012. The recent launch of true GPU low-level hardware acceleration with the latest Flash Player 11, referred to as “Stage3D” will allow console quality real-time 3D. This has huge potential, since Flash maintains a ~94%+ market penetration on the desktop and a fast adoption rate for new releases, the audience potential is great making the platform very attractive to big industry, who will start to take notice… especially when big scale first person shooters and MMORPG materialize.
Real-time 3D delivered through the browser has been around for years – from the likes of Unity, ShockWave, various Flash engines (non hardware accelerated) and even VRML (if you want to look way back in the 90s) but all these technologies and plugins have had much lower adoption rates making them a less desirable development platform.
The likes of JS based WebGL will also gain in popularity but limited support from browsers will impede progress. Smartphones as well will of course progress in the area of 3D, but I see a greater rise in in 3D based gaming and applications on the desktop over 3D apps, part due to a better viewing experience on greater screen sizes and resolutions and higher specced desktop machines.
Google’s Chrome to reign supreme.
According to the well respected and frequently quoted StatCounter, we’ve recently seen Chrome overtake FireFox to become the worlds second most popular browser – that is to say – Chrome 15 over any individual FireFox or IE browser version.
Chrome now has all versions of Internet Explorer in its primary coloured crosshair and I believe Chrome will continue it’s marching momentum – backed by weight of Google’s marketing machine – to become the worlds most popular website browser by the end of 2012, or perhaps even as early as July if I were to stick my neck out.
This is explored this in more detail in the Chrome to Overtake Internet Explorer post
Apps, Apps and more Web Apps
I think Web Apps will start to become a big part of smartphone development landscape in 2012. A ‘Web App’ is accessed through the smartphone browser and unlike a mobile site, has much more of a native app style, making good use of gesture based interaction and other smartphone specific features such as GPS.
It can be a challenge for both developers, marketers and businesses alike to work out how to best leverage the smartphone market. Should we develop for iOS, Android, Blackberry and\or Windows Mobile? Do we need to go through the redevelopment process and – often strict and lengthy – approval process for each App Store? The best solution to these questions – especially for smaller and medium sized businesses, I think will often lie with the Web App.
Mobile development frameworks such as jQuery Mobile and Sencha Touch allow creation of web apps that function on all major smartphone devices without the need to redevelop for each specific mobile OS. Of course 3D games, or applications that use features not (yet!) supported through the browser such as the camera or accelerometer should be native but for companies with a high requirement for multiple-device compatibility, a lower budget and\or desire less restrictiveness from App Stores, then a Web App will often be the way forward.
Check out app.ft.com for a good example of a Web App.
More responsive\adaptive websites
Smartphone optimised websites are going need greater attention from us developers in 2012. Although mobile visitors only account for ~8% of the total, the desktop\mobile split has more than doubled in the last year. OK, so we’re already creating desktop sites that work on mobile (at least we should be!) but can we justify spending significant time (or budget) creating a fully separate mobile site?
This is where responsive websites come in and we’ll see more of them begin to emerge in 2012. A fully responsive website is one whose layout changes depending on screen resolution. On smaller smartphone screens for example, navigation, panels, larger image areas and other elements may change position or shrink allowing content to be better displayed on the device – for example bringing the most important content into view and having it all legible without needing to zoom.
I think we will see better and more responsive websites in 2012 but I don’t think it will be the huge trend setter many seem to be predicting. Smartphones are well equipped to deal with full resolution desktop sites and many sites created for desktop years ago also work well on mobile – especially in the horizontal. I would predict in 2012 much greater usage of more basic CSS media queries and semi-responsive designs that, for example, change font size and other page elements depending on device resolution but fully responsive websites will still require a lot of consideration at planning, design and development stages which for most, won’t justify the extra cost.
SEO: More focus on good content
Content has always been king and in 2011 Google released it’s ‘Panda’ update which attempt to lower the rankings of sites considered “low quality” and less useful to the searcher. These sites may for example have very little content, a lack of unique content or have poor usability.
I would expect to see search engines continue to change and tweak their alogorthms in 2012 to reward high quality websites that have uniquely generated, useful and relevant content over content aggregated sites, directory based services and even blog articles that simply link to other articles accompanied by a handful of words.
I would expect as well to see more social media metrics and signals to play a greater role in helping establish the popularity and trust of sites and individual pages. Of course social media isn’t relevant for all websites and shouldn’t be used just to try and boost SEO but – when appropriate – the number of links, likes and tweets from social media sources can act as a great indicator of importance.
HTML 5 and CSS 3 begin to tip the balance
Although HTML 5 and CSS 3 are not supported by IE 6, 7 & 8, these browsers are diminishing – albeit slowly – and have around 30% of the market share. Although this is still a huge consideration, I would expect to see developers use a lot more HTML 5 and CSS 3 features that still look OK when not displayed in older browsers for example more rounded corners, drop shadows on images and text and curvey or circular elements in web designs.
Flash still best for RIAs and video
Adobe’s recent decision to abandon Flash Player for the smartphone came as a disappointment to Flash fans and had many people sounding – prematurely – the death knell for Flash. Sure, we’re going to see more and increasingly complex JS based animation – and I welcome this wherever possible\feasible – but the truth is you can only go so far with JS… and HTML 5 neither has the market penetration (more IE 6,7 & 8 users than Smartphone visitors) nor the capabilities that Flash has for video delivery, let alone some of the more complex interactivity and animation Flash is best at.
One day, eventually, the likes of YouTube will opt to use HTML 5 video over a plugin based technology as the first choice for video streaming but that day won’t be in 2012. I would go as far to say it will be another 3 or 4 years at least.
Come back next year to see if I was right (or hideously wrong) in these predictions! Oh, and have a great 2012!