Can HTML 5 and Flash Co-Exist?
70% of all Internet games, 75% of all Internet videos, 85% percent of top web sites and 98% of computers on the Web run on Flash. Flash is used in casual games, video, and animation on the Web by brands such as Nike, Hulu and BBC. Yet, iPad, the table device Apple unveiled recently, is not Flash compatible. The omission of Flash on the iPad has disappointed the programming community who wish to deploy their applications for the iPad. By denying them this channel of application delivery, not only has Apple disappointed the developer community but also restricted the user’s browsing experience.
Original image at Adobe's Platform Evangelist Lee Brimelow's blog
Steve Jobs' reasoning for the omission was that Flash compatibility is unnecessary with the evolution of HTML 5. HTML 5 has been under development since 2004. It allows users to play media (audio and video) within the browser without having to download a plugin. "HTML 5 is really the second coming of this Web stuff -- of the Web," says Dion Almaer, co-founder of the Ajaxian Web site and co-director of developer tools at Mozilla.
Although the editor of HTML 5, Ian Hickson, says we might have to wait till 2022 for the final proposed draft of HTML 5, the markup language has already found a lot of users. Newer versions of browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome are HTML 5 compatible.
Also, the timelines indicate that ample efforts are being put into making HTML 5 less vague than its predecessor. Version 5 is being subjected to extensive implementation testing (which HMTL 4 miserably failed at) and include new features which we shall discuss in brief:
- Native Audio Playback: introduction of the <audio> and <video> tags eliminate the need to use <embed> and <object>. This means web sites like You Tube and MySpace 'can' disown Flash and its derivatives and take complete advantage of timed playback. Note the stress on CAN as this is a reference to a probable eventuality, not a fact-based prediction as there are a number of challenges before massive scale adoption occurs.
- White Canvas: one of the APIs included in HTML 5 is the canvas feature which allows users to access whiteboard like functionality on the fly directly within the browser, a simple demonstration of which can be seen here http://htmlfive.appspot.com/static/draw.html . This is once again implemented without the use of any flash elements. The implications of this API extended beyond just a drawing tool. This could in turn lead to some very interactive responsive user interfaces
- Extra SuperCookies: mostly work on the same principle as SuperCookies but with much more space to store one time data and persistent application databases like email, without actually having to connect to the internet on the lines of Google Gears (implemented on HTML5 specifications, it allows users to access Gmail offline)
- Features such as Geolocation is capable of turning smart devices into location-aware devices without being restricted to a single API provider. HTML 5 is also expected to make it easier to build wikis, drag-and-drop tools, discussion boards, real-time chat, search engine front-ends, and integrate other modern web elements into any site, and have them work the same across browsers.
Current Challenges in the Way of HTML 5 Adoption
Youtube, the biggest Flash powered web site, recently dabbled with HTML 5 on a subset of its videos. This experiment was however restricted to browsers that supported the HTML 5 video tag and the h.264 codec, which eliminated Firefox and Opera users. The results showed that videos that have advertisements embedded in them are not a part of the HTML 5 subset as they are all Flash dependant. These are the videos that Youtube monetizes, so a complete shift to HTML 5 will result in massive loss of ad revenues for the video portal for the simple reason that advertisers need as many eyes as they can get. Work to rectify such issues is currently underway. Features like full screen toggle and various resolution options are also being explored.
Dave Story, Vice President of Developer Tools at Adobe said, "HTML 5 faces many challenges. The browser market remains highly fragmented, and incompatibilities between browsers reign. The HTML 5 timeline states that it will be at least a decade before the evolving HTML 5/CSS 3 efforts are finalized, and it remains to be seen what parts will be implemented consistently across all browsers."
Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch has said Flash was designed for pen computing tablets 15 years ago. It "exists now only due to its finding an alternate route in its use -- first filling a niche on the Web by enabling low-bandwidth vector graphics in the early days and then rapidly adding new capabilities over the past decade. That includes bringing animation, streaming audio, rich interactivity, arbitrary fonts, two-way audio/video communication, local storage, and enabling the video revolution on the Web." Adobe says it is currently working on Flash Player 10.1 for smartphones -- including Google's Android, RIM's Blackberry, Nokia and Palm Pre -- tablets, netbooks and internet-connected TVs.
There is no shortage of Flash-doomsday predictors across the Internet, especially after Steve Jobs has reportedly said “ No one will be using Flash, the world is moving to HTML5” when asked about iPad’s lack of Flash support.
But, in the near future at least, it is reasonable to expect that both HTML 5 and Flash will prevail and neither will overtake the other. In the long term HTML 5 looks set to greatly improve the browsing experience. So coupling this technology with Flash’s current market penetration can lead to a rich and enhanced browsing experience for the end user.
P.S. In late 2009, Adobe announced a Packager for iPhone that allows developers to write applications in Flash, which can then be converted to a format compatible with the iPhone with a little tweaking on Creative Suite 5. Some of these apps are available in the Apple App Store such as FickleBlox and Chroma Circuit. Since the iPhone and iPad operate on similar environments such a workaround should allow Flash apps to run on the iPad. Readers should also note that Flash is not the only one left out -- since Apple iPad uses a closed platform developers will not be able to write applications in Java, .net, Python, Ruby, Perl. Users will also not be allowed to install Firefox, Opera, IE or any third party browser.