HTML5 vs Flash. The Battle for Web Content design

As we speak, more and more web developers are moving away from Flash for animation, video and navigation towards the new standard HTML5. The war over Flash is ongoing, and while it seems that HTML5 is emerging with a slight edge, one has to recognize that it is still under process. It is being continuously developed and improved over time.

Here’s the basic: HTML5 is a language used by developers to present (and structure) content for online. It is the latest version of the HTML (stands for HyperText Markup Language) standard first created in 1990. The very purpose of HTML5 is to improve video or multimedia presentation, while keeping it all easily accessible and understood by multiple computer devices, browsers and platforms.

Flash is still the choice of excellence – if you are building a fully interactive Rich Interactive Application experience – it’s becoming acceptable to nudge away and embrace HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3. With Flash not available across most mobile devices (specially anything from Apple), the migration seems natural. I’ve had clients call me and say “our site isn’t working” only to find that they were checking Flash driven content on their iPads. Core content built in Flash is a downer. Sorry Adobe.

Unlike as in previous HTML versions, where we depended on added-on, propreitary software such as Flash to view video or play a YouTube or audio stream, HTML5 allows for simple tags such as 'video' or 'audio' to do the trick. And do the trick on mobile devices just as well, just as easily. That’s a win.

But wait. There are speedbumps. HTML5 as supported heavily by Apple is dependaent on the H264 codec. And that requires a bit of a licensing fee. Others like Mozilla and Google have pushed for open source formats as support. Mozilla’s Firefox 4 uses Ogg, and Google is pushing for WebM. Sounds familiar? Reminds the older generation of VHS vs Beta?

But do not lose heart. Firefox, Apple’s Safari, Google Chrome, Explorer 9 and Opera are all HTML5 friendly. And it is tilting. Things are finally shifting towards the new format. But there are brands and platforms still holding on, playing both sides of the fence. RIM’s new Blackberry PlayBook is being touted as ‘better than the iPad’ because it plays Flash.

While the Flash player has been free, Adobe’s development kit for us designers/developers has been expensive. HTML on the other hand is free. But all those games developed in Flash are not going to render in HTML5 and this will be a problem going forward. Because HTML5 is executed by the browser itself, and it is not a added-on plug-in, it will possible become the choice of new age developers. As long as the interactivity depicted is simple, ’5′ wins. For complexity Adobe’s Flash is still ahead. And the the jury is still out on which one overall. We’ll see.

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