HTML5 vs. Flash – What You Need to Know
It’s been five years since the announcement of HTML5, and yet the HTML5 vs. Flash debate continues to rage on among developers. Everywhere you look, from newspapers to magazines to the Internet, you're swamped with articles about these technologies, often offering conflicting advice about which is the better solution. With all the noise on this subject circling in the technology stratosphere, how do you decide which one is best for you?
BackgroundReleased in 1996, Flash is a multimedia platform originally developed by Macromedia and later acquired by Adobe. By 2000, it had become the de facto standard for video playback, animated banners, and interactive multimedia web pages. Flash essentially became the standard tool in a non-standard web of multi-platform browsers. HTML was developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a group whose main purpose is “to guide the World Wide Web to its full potential by creating protocols and guidelines that ensure the growth of the web in [the] future”. The last HTML specifications focused on future developments were XHTML 2.0 and HTML 4.01, but neither had been updated since 2000. With developers eager for a single markup language that included detailed processing models to encourage more interoperable implementations, HTML5 was born. The initial HTML5 specification was officially announced in 2007, but it did not become a major topic of discussion until April 2010. It was at that time that then-CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, issued a public letter titled “Thoughts on Flash” where he concludes that “[Adobe] Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content” and that “new open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win.”
The DebateProponents of Flash argue that, with over 1 billion users worldwide, Flash isn’t going away any time soon. The numbers, according to Adobe, support them:
- 70% of web-based games are built using Flash, including 24 of the top 25 Facebook games
- 75% of web videos are viewed using Flash (YouTube was solely Flash until adding HTML5 video playback in 2011)
- 98% of enterprises rely on the Flash Player and more than 3 million developers use Flash technology
- 85% of the most-visited websites use Flash in one form or other
Is Flash Dying?While Flash has definitely maintained a large market penetration that probably won’t evaporate completely, it would be hard to argue that it’s not ceding ground to other technologies, namely HTML5. In accordance with Steve Jobs’ letter, Apple products such as the iPad and iPhone do not offer built-in Flash support (although there are add-ons that will allow it to work). Assuming you have accepted their trial, YouTube now uses Flash only as a fallback; if your browser supports HTML5, YouTube uses the newer HTML5 video playback features. YouTube very much sees HTML5 as the future, made clear on their blog when they said: “We are very excited about HTML5 as an open standard and want to be part of moving HTML5 forward on the web.” If the decisions made by those big players aren’t enough to convince you a shift is happening, consider this: Adobe themselves have announced they “will no longer adapt Flash Player for mobile devices to new browser, OS version or device configurations.”
OK, HTML5 it is!So now you’re sold and ready to switch to HTML5, right? You didn’t really think it would be that easy, did you? There are several key points that you need to remember concerning HTML5:
- HTML5 does not officially exist yet. It’s currently a specification in working draft, but is not scheduled for publication until 2014. Also, it’s expected to continue with updates and revisions through at least 2022!
- While HTML5 is rapidly gaining support, there are still older browsers and platforms that do not currently support it. Most developers would rather ignore this, but you shouldn’t, not when 6% of the world is still using IE 6 (as of July 2012).
- The new elements and features in HTML5 are great starting points and will continue to mature as the specification advances. However, some of these elements, including the new tag, are not currently capable of the advanced features such as streaming, captions, and interactive playback that Flash and Silverlight support.