HTML5 vs. Flash

HTML5 vs. Flash

There is a battle going on among those who control how content is displayed from the Internet on web pages, cell phones, iPads and netbooks.  On one side is Adobe with their Flash technology; the other is HTML5, wildly supported by Apple. So why does this affect you and why should you even care? To better understand, let’s look at what they exactly are.

Flash was introduced in 1996 by Macromedia as an interactive way to display graphics on a web page.  It’s most commonly used for animations and can be implemented as ads, partial content or as an entire website.  Adobe later acquired Macromedia and the Flash product is now under their name and the software continues to evolve.  The most common application of a flash file is as a SWF, commonly called a flash movie, or implemented as a flash game on a device or website.  Over the last few years, another way of outputting files from Adobe Flash program is as FLV files, or flash video files.  While the file format name may sound somewhat unfamiliar to the ordinary person browsing the Internet, the FLV format is, at the core, what powers videos on YouTube and similar on-demand video streaming services.

To view a website or application that has Flash in it, whether as an SWF or FLV, the end user needs to install a plugin to their browser that allows flash to work properly.  Most all users are familiar with how to install the plugin, which only needs to be done once and rarely, if ever needs updating.  While the flash plugin doesn’t come standard on any web browsers, rarely do consumers complain or have problems with it.

HTML5 is still under development as the newest major revision to the Hyper Text Markup Language, the code that actually makes websites work and is the core of the World Wide Web. The revision started in 2004 and to date, is not officially active and implemented yet, however certain aspects of it are starting to appear on some websites and in some applications even though most web browsers still can’t support it.  HTML5, when ready for full launch, will have several new features and implementations within it that will allow coders to create more visually stunning, interactive pages through pure code, rather then relying on graphically driven, third party content like Adobe’s Flash.  It’s important to note, HTML5 is not live yet.

The battle that’s erupted between HTML5 and Flash is primarily seen, and being pushed to the limits by computer industry innovator Apple.  Apple does not support or use the Flash plugin on their iPod touch devices, iPhones or the newly released iPad.  For customers who use any of these three devices to browse the Internet they cannot see websites that have flash elements in them, only a blank box appears.  Some websites, like Vegan Treats are built entirely in flash and simply do not work on apple devices.  Consumers pay the price because they just want the content and for the most part could care less how it’s delivered.  This has forced designers who would traditionally build a site like Vegan Treats in Flash alone to also develop a second static, HTML driven site to accommodate visitors.

Apple prefers the HTML5 standard and, is rumored to have been giving Adobe the run-around in supplying the proper API’s to develop proper technology to implement hardware acceleration.  Currently, Flash 10.1 on Mac doesn’t support hardware video acceleration, on PC’s it does. At the core of the issue is how fast content can be delivered on any given device if the speed of the Internet is not factored in.  Web browser and computer hardware determines how fast and smooth animated, video and interactive content is displayed.  Apple has also been a closed-door software company in regards to hardware.  This means, they develop their software by using only specific hardware, which is generally why their products cost more.  They in turn, don’t like to let third party software developers have access to how their software works on their hardware, like Adobe), which causes the riff.

This divide between two powerful companies only negatively effects end consumers, who can’t view websites, play games or watch movies when and how they want to.  The technology used should be of any concern to the consumer and the consumer should never have to deal with these imperfections or limitations in the deployment of hardware because software isn’t capable.  What is possibly most frustrating is HTML5 isn’t standardized yet, nor does it have a defined date for deployment.  It might also not work on older browsers or hardware, requiring users that own computers maybe only a year or two old to upgrade hardware to make the software function properly.

Apple has done some pretty amazing things with hardware, software, operating systems and peripheral hand-held devices, but this hard-headed approach where they are essentially dictating how and what their customers can use their good for could wind up blowing up in their face.  HTML5 isn’t even a product of Apple, it’s one that, in part is being done by Google. It would make more sense for Apple to extend a hand with a partnership to Adobe to make Flash better, for their platform and for all platforms.