On Apple’s iPad, HTML5, and the future of Flash
That shouldn’t be a surprise. Neither the iPhone nor iPod Touch support Flash. Indeed most mobile platforms don’t (yet) support Flash. Even the smartest of smart phones have limited processing power and storage space compared to laptops and desktops.
According to Steve Jobs, Apple doesn’t support Flash on its mobile devices because “it’s buggy.” But I’d guess their decision has as much to do with Flash’s capabilities. Many of the products in that cash cow known as the Apple App Store could be developed using Flash instead.1 Supporting Flash would undermine that billion-dollar revenue stream, piss off iPhone / iPad developers, and also put Apple at Adobe’s mercy.
Besides, everyone’s moving towards HTML5, right? Well yes they are, but not so quickly. I wouldn’t rule Flash out for another 3 to 5 years.
Why do I say this? Four reasons:
Flash has inertia on its side. Major content sites such as Disney and Hulu still use Flash to deliver video, animation, and interactive experiences. According to Adobe’s statistics, Flash has over 90% penetration in mature markets. Developers already know how to use Flash and ActionScript to create these experiences. In short: there are a lot of folks invested in Flash as a platform.
HTML 5 isn’t quite ready for prime time. It’s a shifting standard, a work-in-progress. Though even Internet Explorer 8 supports some significant HTML5 features, Internet Explorers 6 and 7 do not. And both browser versions are still used widely enough that dropping support is not an option for most developers.2
Flash is still the best cross-browser, cross-platform way to serve audio and video. Safari / WebKit, Firefox / Mozilla and Opera all support the HTML5
videoelement. They do not, however support the same codec.
Apple is squarely in the H.264 camp. Google paid a licensing fee so that it could include an H.264 decoder in Chrome. H.264 is a patented codec. Any browser that wants to enable H.264 video will need to pay a licensing fee.
Licensing fees and patent concerns are why Opera and Mozilla are backing Ogg Theora. Ogg Theora is an open sourced codec with no known patents. I should add here that Chrome also supports Ogg Theora. Google, perhaps wisely, chose to include both.
The big monkey wrench in
videoelement adoption, however, is Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer is waiting for them other fools to work out that default codec business before it implements support for the element.
And all of this is before we get into the differences in how browser vendors will execute the specification. That’s a whole ‘nother headache.
We will be using Flash until clients are willing to pay for separate Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer video integration or until the HTML5 working group agrees on a default codec.
- Adobe is working to bring Flash to other mobile platforms. As Adobe’s Chief Technology Officer Kevin Lynch explained,
We are now on the verge of delivering Flash Player 10.1 for smartphones with all but one of the top manufacturers. This includes Google’s Android, RIM’s Blackberry, Nokia, Palm Pre and many others across form factors including not only smartphones but also tablets, netbooks, and internet-connected TVs.Could the iPhone and iPad’s lack of Flash support be a deciding factor in consumers’ decisions not to buy an Apple device?
My Prediction for Flash
Mobile-friendly Web Development Right Now
Despite the fact that Flash is supposed to come to every other mobile platform, Apple’s decision to keep Flash off of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch is not without impact. Apple still runs the smart phone market; in some ways they drive the mobile web. That means the prudent path is (still) progressive enhancement, and ensuring that your critical content and navigation are built using HTML.
So will I buy an iPad?
Nope. I have a laptop, a smart phone (a T-Mobile G1), a desktop and an iPod Touch. To me, the iPad is that weird spot between my smart phone or iPod Touch and a laptop with the convenience of neither. It doesn’t have the pocket-sized portability of my iPod Touch or my phone. And it doesn’t (yet) have the robust features of a laptop — USB ports, optical media drives, and the ability to install any app. I can’t justify the value for the price.
Besides, I still much prefer books to e-readers. I can sell books, trade books, leave books, loan books, and get books wet. I am not about to soak in the tub with a $300 device, but I would with an $11 book.
What do you think about the iPad, Apple’s decision, or the future of Flash and HTML5?
2 There are scripts available to make IE act right, of course. ExCanvas, for example, mimics support for the
canvas element in IE. Simple HTML5 isn’t much different from HTML 4.01. You can actually forge ahead with HTML5 now if you don’t need advanced features like DOM Storage.