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HTML5 & AllianceBernstein's iPad app

So what is HTML5? And some behind the scenes insight on who built AB Connect

Dec 10, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

By Davis Janowski

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(W3C.org)

I promised a blog post that expanded on some of the threads I began in my column this week (Dec. 10) and here it is.

First, a definition of HTML5, or, rather an explanation.

Think of this fifth revision of the hypertext markup language as a long overdue update to HTML that is really inclusive of many modern web technologies rather than a carved-in-stone, static language unto itself.

In fact it is more of a standard than a language.

I like how Jesse Cravens and Jeff Burtoft put it in their recently released book “HTML 5 Hacks” (O'Reilly Media, Nov. 2012).

“In order to understand HTML5…There are more than 30 specifications within the HTML5 umbrella, and each is at a different stage of maturity,” they wrote.

In fact HTML5 is really most often used these days to describe several next generation web technologies all at once, including CSS3, SVG, and JavaScript application programming interfaces.

And within those 30 technologies referred to above, various specific technologies are at varying levels of adoption as well as maturity.

In other words, just because they are all represented within the HTML5 specification or under its umbrella you are not going to find each in equally measured chunks within the code base of a given application.

It is an oversimplification but I like to think of HTML5 these days as a big warehouse full of engine components.

All these components and the engines they make up or can make up are meant to run things built for the Internet; not cars or planes of course.

But taking that engine analogy one step farther, in that warehouse are parts meant for car engines, jet engines, motorcycles, go-carts, submarines, etc.

You might have mechanical carburetors on one shelf along with modern fuel injectors on another — both meant for car engines but not necessarily the same car's engine. In another area, nuclear reactor parts for a submarine engine and an after burner for a jet aircraft engine.

And on it goes.

And that makes it easier to envision why today's Internet and the applications that populate it require an ever-growing set of developers to build them (just like the diversity of engineers and mechanics required for building and maintaining all those vehicles described).

MORE ON HOW ALLIANCEBERNSTEIN BUILT ITS NEW IPAD APP

Some of the different types of content being delivered via the AB Connect iPad app. Note the Insights icon highlighted at the bottom of the screen (short for the Capital Markets Insights and other content, which is currently displayed). Note also the link at bottom, far right which takes the user to the firm's Context blog.
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Some of the different types of content being delivered via the AB Connect iPad app. Note the Insights icon highlighted at the bottom of the screen (short for the Capital Markets Insights and other content, which is currently displayed). Note also the link at bottom, far right which takes the user to the firm's Context blog. (AllianceBernstein LP)

One of the things I really enjoyed about reviewing the new AB Connect iPad application was getting a look behind the scenes at how it had come together.

“We initiated this about five months ago,” said Racine Romaguera, director of web development & strategy with AllianceBernstein LP.

Unlike every other iPad application I have reviewed in the last two years Mr. Romaguera provided an overview of the process involved and how the internal teams within AllianceBernstein had worked together to build it.

All too often big financial services companies or firms selling financial services products have presented me with an opaque view of how their applications or online tools were built.

Example of content pull up from the AB Connect product center available through the iPad.
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Example of content pull up from the AB Connect product center available through the iPad. (AllianceBernstein LP)

Worse still have been the times I've been brought into a big conference room with a couple of senior managers, a marketing person and a media relations handler.

On more than one occasion, after the scripted presentation has concluded and I've proceeded to a slightly technical question or two I've in turn been greeted with a blank stare.

Well, generally something like a blank stare from the management types, the nervous marketing person fails to make eye contact and stares down rapidly jotting notes, while the handler, momentarily busy with his or her Blackberry (probably scheduling the next journalist) remains oblivious.

Not so with Mr. Romaguera and his team.

He included names and gave credit where due as we discussed the process.

For example, he explained how the idea for the app itself came about as a collaborative brainstorming session between himself, Robert Intermont (IT Manager for US Retail at AB) and William Shockley (Director, eStrategy & U.S. Sales Operations at AB).

He credited his developer, Natalia Nesterova, who specializes in HTML5 and JavaScript for putting in a lot of work on the interactive portions of the iPad application, some of which had built upon her previous experience with the firm's regularly published Capital Markets Outlook pieces.

That segues nicely into something else I should mention. All the interactive tools being used are being built in house in HTML5 versus licensing off-the-shelf components from web development firms, which can limit a firm's flexibility.

Mr. Romaguera also cited AllianceBernstein's web designer, Donna Pearson, who helped put a fresh face on the design of the iPad application yet kept it from diverging too far from the look of AB's publications.

And when it came to building the Objective C shell that acts as a wrapper for the application, credit goes to Mr. Intermont and Hau Chu an IT developer at AB.

Related stories & information:

Video (inset upper right), interactive map (lower right) and additional links (lower left) all delivered neatly inside a page of the AB Connect iPad app.
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Video (inset upper right), interactive map (lower right) and additional links (lower left) all delivered neatly inside a page of the AB Connect iPad app. (AllianceBernstein LP)

AB Connect, iTunes Preview page

The HTML5 Hacks blog

Modern Java: How Trust Company of America is rebuilding with it

AllianceBernstein Context blog

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