In terms of pure technology, there is a lot of notable progress. Google did the right thing recently and axed Gears. They had some nice innovations in Gears that have since been rolled up into the HTML 5 standard. Now it makes perfect sense to abandon their proprietary implementation, and embrace the standard. Gears is important because it is (or was) part of Chrome. Thus there are essentially five browsers that now implement a significant subset of HTML 5: IE8, Firefox 3.5, Safari 4, Chrome 4, Opera 10. According to the latest browser share numbers, that means that 53% of users out there are using a browser that supports a lot of cool features, like local storage and selectors. That's more than half! It's tempting to extrapolate from that, but don't get too carried away.
The #1 browser of the HTML 5 browsers, is IE8 -- which does not support a lot of the features that the other browsers support like canvas, video tag, and web workers. For those would be HTML 5 advertisers out there, you better scale back your expectations. For desktop browsers, a lot of the most compelling HTML 5 capabilities are far from being widely supported. How long until IE9 comes out? How much more of HTML 5 will it support? How long until there is high adoption of it? That's too many questions to be comfortable with. Ask me again this time next year.
However, it's fun to pretend sometimes. Let's pretend that IE 9 did come out soon and that it supported everything supported by Firefox and Chrome. Let's even pretend that Microsoft was able to awaken some of their old monopolist mojo and somehow force people to upgrade. So we have a world full of canvas. Will the next great annoying ad use this? If you read my last post on Flash hate, you probably realize the answer is no. As Terry pointed out in the comments there, the Flash authoring tools really empower designers over developers. So before we see an explosion of canvas magic, there will have to be huge strides made in tooling. Now what about video? Even in our dream world, there are issues known as codecs. There is no common video format that will run on both Firefox and Chrome right now, and who knows what Microsoft will do here (WMA FTW!) So we are going to need some technical consolidation here. Let's summarize all of the things that we need to see happen to open up the golden age of HTML 5.
1.) New version of Internet Explorer that supports much more of the HTML 5 specification.
2.) This new version of IE needs to become the dominant flavor of IE.
3.) Outstanding tooling developed to enable designers to leverage HTML 5 capabilities.
4.) Standardization on video codecs by browser vendors.
Don't get too bummed out about all of this. I actually think there is real progress happening on #1 and #3. #4 probably has to wait for #1 to happen. #2 is the most problematic. Since we're dreaming, maybe if IE 9 came out with H.264 support, Google could dramatically drop support for anything else on YouTube, and thus nudge all IE users to upgrade?
If you want to drink the HTML 5 Kool-Aid, and this is bumming you out, I'm sorry. You might feel better to know that the HTML 5 situation is significantly better on mobile devices. According to AdMob, 81% of internet usage in North America was either on iPhones or Android devices. Now, most of those Android devices are running Android 1.5 or 1.6, whose browsers (can we call it Mobile Chrome please?) still use Gears -- not HTML 5. Let's hope that most of those are upgraded (by their carriers) to Android 2.1 soon, and then we're in business. We've got all kinds of HTML 5 goodness available to 80%+ of the users out there.