This year I was lucky enough to attend the 1st day of the FOWA conference. With experience of language-specific technical conferences, I was expecting talks of the same calibre as I have seen at PHP events, but geared towards front-end technologies. However I was a little disappointed. The conference was aimed mainly at business people, with most talks delivered at a high-level, focusing on trends in the industry. I saw very little code throughout the day.

Easily the most interesting talks I saw were two about HTML5 and related technologies: Michael Mahemoff’s HTML5: The Platform Apps Have Been Waiting For and Bruce Lawson’s impromptu talk, Standards Yay!

Both talks stressed using HTML5 as a platform for web applications. Bruce Lawson quoted Ian Hickson, saying that HTML5 was “in direct competition with other technologies invented for applications deployed over the web, in particular Flash and Silverlight”. The message of his talk was that the web was too vital to be in the hands of any one vendor. He did a whirlwind tour of the new mark-up elements and APIs available in HTML5.

Two interesting initiatives he mentioned were W3C widgets and W3C DAP. W3C widgets enable developers to package up applications as a single file and run them through a browser, but without the chrome, essentially mimicking a native application. W3C DAP is a set of APIs that widgets and websites will be able to use to interact with applications and data native to the device, such as contacts, calendars, media-capture devices and messaging (email/SMS).

Michael Mahemoff’s talk looked at the similarities between apps – which he defined as fast applications with a tight focus and rich UI – and web applications and how new HTML5 technologies could bridge the gap between the two and make web applications feel “more appy”. As well as demoing popular Canvas and CSS3 experiments, as examples of great UI, he discussed application caching and the various implementations of client-side storage, including web storage, web SQL databases, indexed databases and file access. The benefits of these technologies include offline use of applications, increased performance when using applications over-the-wire and maintaining state between requests or sessions. Finally, Michael talked about the concept of making web applications installable and the different payment systems becoming available for them. Unsurprisingly, this focused on the Chrome Web Store (he works for Google), which is a platform for selling web applications, similar to the iTunes Store.

Overall, despite a few very good talks, I wouldn’t recommend FOWA to any developer looking for meaty technical content. But definitely check out these emerging front-end technologies and try them out in your projects, especially if you don’t have a requirement to support IE!