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How HTML5 is changing the face of mobile

HTML5 is enabling open, cross-platform rich-media standards that will help brands? and agencies? display advertising achieve the compelling creative and reach across mobile devices they have been seeking.

Apple contributed significantly to the growth of HTML5?first by refusing to let its iOS devices support Adobe Flash, then by launching its own rich-media mobile ad network, iAd. However, HTML5 is an open standard, and it will do for mobile what Flash did for online.

?One of the real benefits of HTML5 is its potential, in the long run, to standardize the highly fragmented rich-media universe, making it easier and more efficient for advertisers to engage consumers with even more immersive advertising experiences ? across both PC and mobile ? at scale,? said Jamie Wells, director of global trade marketing, mobile, local and commerce at Microsoft, Redmond, WA.

Major players getting in the game
Viacom subsidiaries Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks used mobile rich-media advertising as part of the multichannel campaign to promote the summer blockbuster Shrek Forever After.

Timed to coincide with the film opening on May 21 last year, the Shrek Forever After campaign targeted iPhone on the Yahoo mobile homepage at and the Yahoo Movies mobile portal at from May 20 - May 22.

The studios tapped a rich-media mobile ad unit that Yahoo created using HTML5 to boost ticket sales for the movie?s crucial opening weekend (see story).

?In the past, Yahoo spent a great deal of time and money making anything work at scale on mobile devices,? said Alex Linde, director of mobile advertising at Yahoo, Sunnyvale, CA.

?With iPhone, Android and others now adopting HTML5 we have, No. 1, a standard that allows us to ?write almost once, run almost everywhere,? No. 2, an installed base to do it at scale and No. 3, enough bandwidth and screen real estate to do something really interesting for the consumer,? he said.

?Advertisers love the idea of consumers literally touching their brand.?

For example, the execution on the Yahoo frontpage March 4 had the title character from the upcoming film ?Rango? waving and encouraging users to expand the banner ? they could then swipe their fingers on his head to change his color?he is a chameleon?or watch the trailer.

?The fact that we can do this using HTML5 in both apps and Web, on phones and tablets is huge,? Mr. Linde said.

Rich media in the USA
Gannett Co. Inc.?s USA Today offers inventory across its mobile Web site and applications for Apple?s iPod touch, iPhone and iPad, as well as Android-based tablets such as the Motorola Xoom.

Advertisers are increasingly demanding HTML5-based rich-media ad units.

?In the last year HTML5 has had some incredible influence on both the creative and analytical approaches to advertising; most specifically on mobile advertising,? said Todd Pasternack, director of the creative technology group at PointRoll, Conshohocken, PA.

The mandate of "No Flash" on Apple?s iOS devices forced agencies to rethink the creative possibilities to engage users based on the limitations of the technology. It was unknown if HTML5 could do what Flash had done for so long.

Meanwhile, mobile ad servers raced to support the delivery of HTML5 ads while new companies sprouted up and left and right to support publishers with the technology to render them in applications.

?If anything, HTML5 was completely disruptive at first?a necessary evil to be seen on the magical and revolutionary device,? Mr. Pasternack said.

In-app software developer kits (SDKs) from various companies now provide a gateway to access device features such as the accelerometer and gyroscope using HTML5 and JavaScript at the creative-level, allowing for intuitive and interactive experiences.

?Consumers now can touch a brand in a way they haven't been able to before?swiping products across the screen, dragging and dropping items into shopping carts and spinning cars around all with their finger,? Mr. Pasternak said.

?Though I think what enables these experiences is more about the combination of the device technologies with the coding language than either one on its own,? he said.

Although HTML5 has more or less provided a new standard to build creative for advertising that can run across the major mobile operating systems, there are still challenges when it comes to video and the fragmentation between supported codecs, something Flash solved years ago.

On desktop computers, HTML5 browser support is a mere fraction of the market, and Flash is still king, per PointRoll.

?And until the ?codec wars? are over, Flash is still the best solution so agencies don't need to create four different assets for four separate browsers,? Mr. Pasternak said. ?Still being early in the year, we have yet to see the successes and failures of Flash performance in mobile and tablets.

?At the end of the day, it's about compelling creative and relevant advertising,? he said. ?Whether it's HTML5 or Flash powering it - the consumer could care less.?

The key for marketers is reach.

That, combined with compelling creative and the personal nature of mobile devices, makes rich-media mobile advertising an attractive advertising medium to work with.

HTML5 makes ads universally flightable to all mobile channels, both Web sites and applications.

?HTML5 in conjunction with Open Rich Media for Mobile Advertising?ORMMA?is particularly powerful, because it means that HTML can trigger native functionality in apps which means that ad creators can use all the features of native apps when thinking of the mobile advertising experience," said Tom Limongello, vice president of marketing at Crisp Media Inc., New York.

?Also, Apple is constantly pushing the limits of their Javascript engine in Safari, which is pushing the industry forward, and that work is enabling cross-platform delivery of advertising.?

Flash in the pan or ubiquitous standard?
HTML5 is the primary language that allows for the highly engaging rich-media advertising experiences that are seen on today?s mobile devices?the vast majority of which are not able to run any Flash-enabled content.

The exponential rise in the use of HTML5 has agencies filling out new HTML5 development teams and/or training existing resources to meet the demands from brands that they take advantage of the growing mobile rich media opportunity.

This growth is similar to what the industry saw a number of years ago when online rich media had these same agencies expanding their internal Flash production capabilities.

?By applying the power of HTML5 and the lessons learned from the evolution of online rich media, Medialets, in partnership with agencies, has been able to develop mobile rich media ad campaigns that consistently deliver double-digit engagement rates,? said Theo Skye, creative director at Medialets, New York.

?Thanks to native HTML5 support in most of today's touchscreen handsets, tablets and emerging device formats, the steep user adoption curves of those devices, and ever-increasing desktop browser support for HTML5, current indicators are pointing to a not-too-distant future where HTML5 becomes the ubiquitous standard through which most digital rich media is delivered,? he said.

Influence of  Apple and Google
HTML5 is changing the mobile ecosystem in many ways.

Apple is clearly steering away from Flash, which is the current standard for rich media advertising worldwide.

Google is still supporting Flash?however, it is putting more of its efforts into developing and supporting HTML5, for example, with its Chrome browser.

For that reason, the end of Flash is in sight, according to mobile ad server specialist MADS.

However, in the Web world, Flash still dominates and it will take many years to change that.

?On mobile, Flash does not dominate and we feel that HTML5 will take the lead from here on forward,? said Ashu Mathura, CEO of MADS, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. ?For Fortune 500 advertisers, this creates a problem: fragmentation.

?They will need to delivery their mobile rich-media advertising in HTML5 and their Web advertising in Flash,? he said. ?Some will chose not to do mobile, some will chose to deliver both and some will chose to do only mobile.

?There is even more fragmentation, because HTML5 does not run the same in every browser?therefore they will need more time and money to make sure the experience is the same across mobile browsers.?

At the same time, some companies try to make it easier.

Greystripe is offering tools to convert Flash to HTML5.

Medialets and MADS offer HTML5 creative creation tools such as wizards and ad builders.

Crisp and others are trying to standardize the way HTML5 ads are created, which Mr. Mathura said he supports.

In addition, the experimental Adobe Air tool known as Wallaby enables the conversion of .FLA files to HTML5 to make them compatible with devices such as the iPad.

?In any case, fragmentation is not helping to win the hearts of advertisers, therefore the path towards rich-media advertising will not be easy and the battle is won locally,? Mr. Mathura said.

HTML5 and mobile commerce
In addition to its impact on mobile advertising, HTML5 is affecting mobile commerce as well.

In particular, software developers creating mobile Web sites and applications related to mobile shopping and bar code scanning are taking advantage of the technology.

For applications such as ShopSavvy, HTML5 is allowing its developers to include application-like functionality without having to re-release to iTunes every time the company wants to update the app.

Additionally, it allows ShopSavvy to offer customized experiences to users based on their shopping behavior.

?Since we know which retailers you seem to prefer, we can specifically notify you using HTML5 when those retailers are having sales or specials,? said Alexander Muse, cofounder of ShopSavvy Inc., Dallas.

?Finally, it is awesome for A/B testing,? he said. ?We can deliver half of our users one experience and see how well it works, while the other half gets a another experience.

?There are lots of limitations to HTML5 today, but in general it is allowing ShopSavvy to stay ahead of the competition.?

Final Take