I’ve just read a post by Alex Maccaw, 5 APIs that will transform the Web in 2013, and think that while the APIs described are all pretty cool, my personal favourite has not been mentioned: web intents. The specification is currently in the ‘working draft’ stage and so chances are it still won’t be finalised next year, which probably means browser coverage will be lacking (particularly in the IE camp), but Firefox and Chrome are already picking it up and so at least that’s something!

Web intents is inspired by Android’s Intents framework, and is a framework that allows for web-based inter-app communication and service discovery. The example that is typically bounded about when talking about web intents is photo editing. Say, for example, I build a web application that allows users to upload photos, and I want to enable them to manipulate the photo on my site. I could spend a lot of time trying to develop my own editing system, but the likelihood is that it will be buggy, or lacking in features, because this is simply not my area of expertise. Using the web intents framework, however, I could simply integrate with a third-party photo editing application which is hopefully less buggy and more feature packed than anything I could code myself. Furthermore, since all my application is doing is declaring that it needs a certain type of service, rather than specifying one service specifically, the user is able to select whichever photo editing application suits him best.

This example works well, given the difficulties that can arise for the average developer dealing with advanced image manipulation techniques, but the web intents system specification is open enough that anyone can register a service for any intent that they wish. Take a look at the demos on the webintents.org for some different sample applications, as well as to get an idea of how this system will work. I think it’s really exciting, and will make it easier for us all to develop richer web applications going forward.

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