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HTML5 ≠ Safari

You'll need to download Safari to view this demo. [Detail]

Whilst it’s encouraging to see Apple throwing its considerable weight behind HTML5 and the development of open web standards, it’s unveiling late last week of an HTML5 Showcase was, to put it mildly, somewhat disingenuous.

The copy is well written, careful to mention that what’s being promoted, is being promoted in the context of, “the latest version of Apple’s Safari web browser”. (As an aside, it’s interesting that Apple announced this just days before Safari 5 was released.) Apple state:

Every new Apple mobile device and every new Mac - along with the latest version of Apple’s Safari web browser - supports web standards including HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. These web standards are open, reliable, highly secure, and efficient.

Standards aren’t add-ons to the web. They are the web. And you can start using them today.

However, to herald the benefits of web standards in a showcase that requires Apple’s very own Safari browser to access, is so contradictory that one wonders who in Apple thought this might be a good idea. (Not least as it comes hot on the heels of Steve Jobs’ open letter outlining a number of Thoughts on Flash which was openly critical of Adobe championing “100% proprietary” products.)

Moments after the announcement, @beep (Ethan Marcotte) summarised the Apple HTML5 Showcase ironically as follows:

I love Apple’s new ‘download Safari’ page: http://www.apple.com/html5/

This was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and the backlash that has followed has been widespread with articles published in, amongst others: Webmonkey, TechCrunch and Electronista.

In a thoughtful piece, writing on Intellectual Honesty and HTML5, Christopher Blizzard (who it should be noted works as an Open Source Evangelist for the Mozilla Corporation) stated forcefully, “It’s time to expose the emperor,” (the language he uses is telling). Blizzard goes on to state:

Apple [has] come out with something that [is] so brash and misleading it deserves a good tear-down.

Sites [like this] entirely miss the point of the web, interoperability and standards… The demos that they put up are just filled with stuff that Apple made up, aren’t part of HTML5 and are only now getting to the standards process.

Whilst it’s true that standards don’t always lead - and with the increasing role the WHATWG is playing in evolving HTML5, standards are, in some cases following browser innovations - the manner in which Apple has presented its showcase, as a signpost to the benefits of standards (implicitly the benefits of open standards over closed, proprietary systems like Flash) is contradictory.

Blizzard summarises his thinking neatly, noting that there’s nothing wrong with browser vendors showcasing browser-specific innovations as long as they are labelled as such, stating: “Apple’s message is clearly meant to say, ‘we love the web’, but the actual demos they have and the fact that they actively block other browsers from those demos don’t match their messaging. It’s not intellectually honest at all.”

That this showcase, “isn’t intellectually honest at all,” goes to the heart of the matter. It’s the paradox - of ‘standards’ that are ‘browser-specific’ - that lies at the heart of the reaction that Apple’s showcase has given rise to.

Writing at Webmonkey, Scott Gilbertson states, “Apple’s HTML5 Showcase is less about web standards, more about Apple.” This sentiment is also echoed by Charles Arthur in The Guardian, who writes, “Insisting that people have to use Apple’s Safari when plenty of other browsers can cope with HTML5 isn’t the best way to persuade people that you’re pushing a standard, is it?”

Apple deserves to be celebrated for its relentless innovation within the browser space, but should take care in how it highlights this innovation. There are few web designers that aren’t excited at some of the Safari specific innovations that Apple is developing, but all look forward to the day when these innovations are truly standards: written once and delivered, seamlessly, to any browser.

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