Pity the programmer. The path used to be so clear. After coming up with the next billion-dollar software idea, the only decision left was whether to build it for just Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)’s Windows or Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s Mac as well.
Now the options are far more diverse. Mobile platforms like Apple’s iOS, Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android, and Windows Phone all vie for coders’ attention alongside desktop operating systems and Web hubs such as Facebook Inc. Each one requires time, and often a different skill set.
The challenge is particularly acute in video games, where iPhone users expect to be able to interact with their friends even if they’re using a different device. Michael Carter, a 27- year-old software engineer, says he has a solution in HTML 5, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Feb. 27 issue.
Carter’s company, Game Closure, builds tools that let game developers write one version of their genius idea, then publish it anywhere. In Game Closure’s take on the card game Hearts, for instance, friends in different cities can play against each other using Facebook, an iPhone or an Android tablet. “It’s the future,” said Carter of HTML 5.
At its core, HTML 5 is a set of standards that lets Web browsers understand animations, videos, graphics and other multimedia content without the need to download a plug-in like Adobe Systems Inc. (ADBE)’s Flash, which is how most Web videos and graphics are displayed today. Many technologists -- including the late Steve Jobs -- have criticized Flash for being buggy and draining battery life.
New Program’s Promise
The goal of HTML 5, which is gradually making its way into all modern Internet browsers, including ones on mobile devices, is to make sites look and feel just like applications downloaded directly to a phone or desktop. Until recently, that was more of a promise than a reality.
That’s changing in part because of the steamroller effect of Apple’s iPad and iPhone, which don’t run Flash content. Game Closure’s write-once, publish-anywhere tools for game makers attracted social-gaming company Zynga Inc. (ZNGA), which offered $100 million to buy the startup, according to people familiar with the matter who weren’t authorized to discuss the negotiations.
“We definitely walked away from a pretty large payout,” Carter said, declining to go into specifics. “But we have a larger vision for game development.”
He secured $12 million in a venture round led by Highland Capital to build his company instead, and plans to make money by licensing his technology or signing revenue-sharing agreements with those who use it.
Zynga, Electronic Arts
Zynga is hiring its own HTML 5 engineers to create new titles, as is Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) Amazon.com Inc. unveiled an HTML 5 version of its mobile website last year, and in early February, International Business Machines Corp. bought the development company Worklight Inc. to create HTML 5 business applications for phones and tablets.
“We’re at a technological inflection point,” said Tom Conrad, the executive vice president of product at the music- streaming site Pandora Media Inc. (P), which rebuilt its main website in HTML 5 in 2011.
As HTML 5’s use has expanded, software engineers proficient in it are in short supply. “Just call a recruiter and ask for one -- see how long it takes,” said Adam Miller, chief executive officer of Cornerstone OnDemand Inc., which builds applications for human-resources managers. HTML programmers can make as much as $250 an hour, he said.
Some are concerned that the rush to HTML 5 might lead to shoddier software. Since the very idea behind HTML 5 is universality, it may discourage developers from tailoring their code to the capabilities of specific devices. Not every phone has an accelerometer that can sense tilting, for example.
“HTML 5 is by far the greatest lowest common denominator ever invented,” says Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote Corp., a note- taking application. “But it’s still the lowest common denominator.”
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