WidgetPad to Harness HTML 5 for Mobile

A new company launching today aims to help mobile developers create smartphone widgets that bridge the gap between Web and native applications.

Developers can use the WidgetPad platform to create hybrid Web-based mobile applications using standard Web technologies such as HTML 5, CSS3 and JavaScript and distribute them as stand-alone applications to smartphone app stores.

The new platform is offered in a collaborative, open source environment that will allow developers to freely share source code and ideas.

By taking advantage of emerging new standards, such as HTML 5, WidgetPad takes the complexity out of creating native applications and eliminates the need to learn platform-specific APIs.

The company launches WidgetPad for iPhone today under the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, Satoshi Nakajima, president and founder, told InternetNews.com.

“Off-deck apps using HTML 5 is a big trend, like a tidal wave, that’s going from WAP to HTML to HTML 5. It’s unstoppable. It may take a year or two, but based on my observation, developers need to learn the HTML 5 WebKit now to be ready to take advantage of the future,” said Nakajima, who was integral in creating the architecture for Microsoft Windows 95 and in the creation of Internet Explorer.

Nakajima said WidgetPad for iPhone allows developers to create media-rich mobile applications that can leverage all of the iPhone’s advanced hardware capabilities, including GPS, accelerometer and a compass. Developers can access WidgetPad.com through standard browsers such as Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer.

Upcoming versions of WidgetPad will enable developers to port their applications to other smartphone devices, including the Palm Pre and assorted Blackberry models.

“With the smartphone market growing so fast and being so competitive, it has become difficult to predict its future. This uncertainty is making it tough for application developers to choose one particular platform to invest their engineering resources in. WidgetPad eliminates this complexity by allowing developers to create hybrid Web applications and distribute them as stand-alone applications across various app stores,” Nakajima said.

Furthermore, he said WidgetPad offers an open source, collaborative environment for JavaScript developers to share source code. “Our goal is to make this environment the premier outlet for developers that want to learn how to develop interactive applications using HTML 5,” Nakajima said.

Next page: Key features

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Key features of WidgetPad for iPhone include: source code editing for JavaScript, HTML 5 and CSS, with syntax highlighting; uploading of various resources (image, sound, and other JavaScript and CSS files); code sharing and forking; secure cross-domain scripting; and application previewing.

Developers can also choose to publish applications to iPhone either through a generic, free WidgetPad client or as their own branded applications that can be free or require payment.

The source code of those public applications will be automatically shared among other developers. The premium version of WidgetPad for iPhone, available later this year, will allow developers to create “private” projects and distribute stand-alone applications to the Apple App store.

“With strong support by Google and Apple, it’s very clear that HTML 5 will eventually become the standard development platform used to create interactive applications for smartphones, eliminating the need to develop applications in C++, Objective C and Java. We want to accelerate this movement by
offering Widget for iPhone today,” said Nakajima.

While HTML 5 is still in its infancy, industry observers have said and Nakajima believes that it will radically change the mobile developer paradigm as it becomes more widely adopted for authoring on the Web.

HTML 5 is viewed as a huge leap forward in Internet specifications because it doesn’t simply aim to display content in a Web browser like prior versions, but rather makes the Web a universal operating system. It will also be the first major upgrade to HTML since 1997, when version 4.0 came out. The HTML 4.0.1 recommendation was published in 1999.

Only the beginning

Right now, HTML 5 support is being integrated into WebKit, the underlying code in browsers such as Apple’s Safari and Android’s built-in browser.

We’re already seeing a preview of the potential of HTML 5 with Palm’s webOS platform, which uses Web developer tools, Tom Conrad, CTO for the Internet radio company Pandora, told InternetNews.com. Conrad has overseen the development of mobile Pandora apps for the iPhone and Palm Pre.

“The entire Palm Pre webOS platform is a preview of what’s possible in an HTML 5 world,” he said. “From a developer’s standpoint, HTML 5 can create a compelling app-like experience using open Web standards, which would be tremendous for developers, and also for users because they won’t have to wait a year for developers to bring platform-specific apps out.”

Still, Conrad said mobile players may not be so willing to embrace HTML 5, because it could blur the distinction between the “open Web” and what wireless companies want to allow on their networks.

“I’m certainly enthusiastic about what’s possible with HTML 5, but it’s an open question how much of a bear hug the established players in the industry will give to that technology,” he said.

The carriers add an interesting dimension to the discussion because, to some degree, they have some influence over what types of apps are allowed on their networks through the current process in which they’re approved. Conrad said HTML 5 could change this dynamic, blurring the distinction between the open Web and what’s deemed appropriate in terms of carriers’ business interests.

“VoIP is one thing carriers have been reluctant to facilitate, so as the open Web starts to enable more sophisticated apps, will it appear that carriers are saying, ‘this is part of the Web we won’t let you visit?’ I think ‘Net neutrality comes into play at some point,” said Conrad. “So there will certainly be challenging questions for the industry to wrestle with.”

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