As The Flash Fades

HTML5 vs Flash in Web Design,

As a web designer my job is to present content on the internet that is both appealing and effective.  Over the past few years the latter has been a two horse race, Flash by Adobe and the open source HTML5.  Both have their benefits and drawbacks but much like the battle of Blu Ray versus HD DVD the outcome looks to be decided not by the consumers but by the providers.

With the smart phone market on the rise internet analysts, like Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanly, predict that mobile web consumption will overtake desktop users in the next year.  Leading the pack of mobile market is the Flash-friendly Google Android with 43.7 percent and Apple’s anti-Flash iPhone with 27.3 percent.  Though Google shadows Apple in the smart phone department, Apple eclipses them in the tablet division.  Apples iPad users reach nearly 75 percent of the market in 2011.  What does that mean for Adobe’s Flash?  Well if you’re going to an Apple party, Flash isn’t invited.

So why not just ditch Flash?  It’s likeAmericaswitching to the metric system, it makes sense but it’s not going to happen.  According to Adobe statistics, Flash has reached 98 percent of operating systems.  The primary use being video playback.  Flash has the ability to measure in sub-pixel increments, something HTML5 cannot do, resulting in crisper looking websites.   It also supports digital rights management functionality (DRM) which is used for protection against piracy.  Another thing Flash can do that HTML cannot is work with USB devices like thumb drives, webcams and microphones.  However, these features do not come without a price.  HD video playback causes relatively high CPU usage due to the fact that the Flash plug-in does not use the GPU to render the video.  Adobe has tried to solve this with newer versions of Flash that use Actionscript 3.0 to improve code execution speeds but websites that still use the older Actionscript 2.0 can not benefit from this.

Then there is HTML5, which on its own is not much, but partnered with CSS3 and Javascript can be a powerful tool.  One of the new additions to HTML5 is the “canvas” element which allows the website to animate charts and graphs much like Flash.  Used with Javascript, HTML5 can create extensive user interfaces with superior stability because it is run directly in the browser and not a plug-in.  With that being said, HTML5’s features rely solely on the browser.  Latest versions of Firefox, Chrome, and Safari have integrated the HTML5 language but a large fraction of internet users, like in corporate offices, still use older versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer which cannot translate HTML5.

The key factor in all this is usability.  Why make something if only half of your audience can see.  Apple’s decision to block Flash on their devices could be the final drop to tip the scales in HTML5’s favor.  So why did the late Apple founder Steve Jobs restrict Flash from his iOS?  Simple, Flash was designed to be used with a mouse.  Rollovers and drop down menus are activated when a cursor is “hovered” over them, something a touch screen and fingers cannot emulate.

Now where does that leave us, the users?  In a rapidly evolving technological world information is shared instantly, movies fit in our pocket, and your phone is your wallet.  Gone are the days of waiting for a fax or even a one computer home.  Children learn the alphabet on a tablet and are texting by grade school.  We like to surf while we walk, and we grew to hate the word “buffering”.  So in the web foot race HTML5 seems to take the win by a nose, but Flash is not forgotten.  It will still have a purpose in multimedia, games and also as a learning tool for the educational and corporate worlds.  If you spend enough time on the web chances are you’ll run into some Flash, that is if you’re not using an iPad.

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