Five Myths of HTML5 (vs. Adobe Flash)

don't ask - I was looking for 5 myths and then 5 riders and found this imageFirst off, the inevitable disclaimer: I’m a Flash guy, not really an HTML5 guy. But I’m also an Apple guy  - I’ve owned 8 Macs, 2 iPhones, and 0 PCs over the last 20 years. I’m naturally receptive to Steve’s ideas, so maybe this HTML5 stuff does make sense. Or does it?

I don’t mean to come late to or prolong the argument. Rather, I actually wanted to dig a little deeper into the HTML5 vs. Flash debate and offer a fair rebuttal to the most fanatical of claims.

Let’s get to it…

Myth 1: the video tag will replace Flash video

I’m getting this out of the way first because it’s been done to death. Yes, it’s possible to play video without Flash by using HTML5 video. But it has caveats depending on the browser and the codec. This myth also wants us to overlook that we’ve been able to play video in HTML4 for over a decade using Quicktime, Windows Media, DIVX, RealPlayer, and dozens of other formats.

The problem solved by Flash video wasn’t can I show a video? Instead, Flash solved can everyone watch my video? HTML5 video doesn’t provide this solution; it just adds another approach to the incompatibility pile.

It’s also important to point out that Apple’s support for HTML5 video in iPOS* has less to do with open standards and more to do with boosting QuickTime-based view count. Don’t believe me? Visit www.youtube.com/html5 on your iPhone. You won’t see the HTML5 video example. Instead you’ll be forwarded to YouTube mobile which offers videos playable only in the iPOS QuickTime player.

* iPOS – aka the iPhone, iPod, iPad OS

Myth 2: HTML5 is here, Flash is dead

Another hot topic with little merit. If Flash had stopped advancing eight years ago it might have been possible see “HTML5 kill Flash” someday. But Flash is far more ubiquitous and powerful than that.

In the immediate future, Flash player will be up and running on almost every device and browser. Historically it takes about a year for the latest Flash Player to hit 80% penetration, and another 6 months to get to 90%.

In contrast, HTML5 must continue to wait for users to adopt newer browsers as well as for these browsers to negotiate standards. The leading HTML5 browsers, Safari and Chrome, make up less than 20% of the desktop market. And Mobile Safari is only at ~30% share despite being available for 2+ years and the current mobile market leader.

Moving on, the Flash Platform today provides a far more complex level of interactivity that the HTML5 digerati can imagine, including skinnable components, embeddable swfs, movieclips, native apps w/ native processes, video and microphone input, peer-to-peer communication and file transfer, the Text Layout Framework, shared whiteboarding, and multiplayer games …and that’s just the off-the-top-of-my-head stuff.

Fact is, no other technology provides all of this in a single universal platform.

Myth 3: Canvas is great for artists

To me, canvas appears to be is the most severe limitation to HTML5. To start off, there’s the little things. Canvas doesn’t support fonts except those supported by each particular browser. Canvas only supports limited interactivity, so games are a no-no.* Canvas has no plans for accessibility. And canvas can’t do this.

The there’s the big thing: canvas has zero support for designers. No apps, no drawing tools, no animation controls, no tutorials. Nothing! What does exist are various examples of how to write code to create primitive graphics or how to convert graphics from Illustrator to canvas.

Designers and artists don’t write code, they draw lines and add color. They expect a GUI to create visual content, not BBEdit. Easy-to-use visual tools will have be created for design and layout before we ever see serious adoption.

[ * Update: I misread this section in the specifications which actually advises against graphically intense canvas content, particularly that which could be done in mark-up.]

Myth 4: HTML5 will solve all the problems associated with Flash

This is a catch-all for some of the most common complaints associated with Flash, yet will persist in HTML5.

1) CPU hogging – yes, Flash pushes CPUs. But so does HTML5, even with really simple apps.

2) Banner ads – HTML5 won’t kill Flash banner ads – they’ll just be done in HTML5, but now you can’t ignore them with a Flash-blocker (note to HTML5 developers – you can have the banner market. Please. Take it.)

3) Splash pages – we finally defeated Flash-based splash intros, only to see them reintroduced for HTML5

4) Crashes – this one is harder to clearly refute except to say that Flash Player 10.1 is far less resource intensive than the current version because it’s meant to work on mobile devices, which is no small effort. In contrast, HTML5 is brand new and therefore untested. As people start to experiment with complex canvases, we’re going to see CPUs pushed just as much as Flash, if not more.

Myth 5: Adobe is afraid of HTML5

The fact: nobody is doing more to support HTML5 than Adobe (not even Apple). First off, Adobe provides the tools for 99% of the creative community, so inevitably Adobe will be the primary source for design tools to actually make SVGs and canvas content. Ironically, Adobe pushed for SVG integration but was ultimately won over by the flexibility of Flash.

Further, Adobe is already working on supporting the code-based approaches to graphics in their Creative Suite. FXG, a XML-based graphic format guide, was started with CS4 to better enable the transfer of graphic content between apps. With some tweaking, it will be very easy for Illustrator, Fireworks, and Photoshop to export canvas-happy content. If Flash picks up the torch, we may even have sophisticated animation as well.

Bottom line (and greatest irony): the only company we can actually count on to make HTML5 successful will be Adobe.

Comments (12)

  1. At this time, maybe, but in the near future, definitely yes. You can do a lot of stuff right now with HTML5 stuff goodies, such as WebSockets, Storage, Drag and Drop, Media, 2D Drawing, WebGL, Web Workers, Notifications, Message Ports, GeoLocation etc, etc, etc. For example, take a look at the current status in Chromium:

    http://dev.chromium.org/developers/web-platform-status

    What I am trying to say, from what I see, if the whole world uses Chrome/FireFox/Safari, then yes, HTML5 will be more dominant than Flash. As JavaScript gets faster and faster, securer, a full blown web app can be made easily in a standard HTML5 way.

    IE should really focus on making the web better instead of playing catch up.

  2. Its always refreshing to find a post that actually supports flash. There are so many web devs out there who bash it. The facts remain. If your main purpose is to deliver content, then let it speak for itself. If you want to impress and deliver web content in a creative, unorthodox way, then use flash. No one technology is better than the other, their purposes are different. So to say flash sucks or HTML sucks is just fucking stupid.

    Most the web devs I have worked with and who have never touched flash are the types who argue that HTML will kill flash. Please, just shut up and work instead of bickering over which is better. Chances are if you were actually knowledgeable enough in both languages to know the answer to this question, you wouldn’t spend so much time bickering. You would just work.

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  4. I believe HTML 5 will eventually be able to fulfill certain roles on the web that Flash has traditionally been used for. But during the time Flash will continue innovating and developing.

    Another words, Flash, along with other Internet technologies, have a long road left to travel. And we see new horizons for Flash works.

  5. @Dan Udey. Wow. How about knee-jerk reactions of the kind that imply you’re *not* a Flash developer? Both you and the OP demonstrate a fair lack of experience with the “competing” technology. (Rebuttal of “movie clips” will give quite a chuckle to anyone who has used the Flash authoring tool in the last 10 years.) Until your knowledge runs deep and true for both HTML5 and Flash, it’s just more noise.

  6. Pingback: Five Myths of HTML5 (vs. Adobe Flash) « Teddy Hwang

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  8. Hmm, where should I begin? Bullet points, I guess.

    Myth 1

    > Visit http://www.youtube.com/html5 on your iPhone. You won’t see the
    > HTML5 video example. Instead you’ll be forwarded to YouTube
    > mobile which offers videos playable only in the iPOS QuickTime player.

    On the iPhone, YouTube pops up Quicktime to play the video, because that’s what plays h.264 video on the iPhone. On Safari on Windows and Mac, it uses Quicktime for decoding as well. On Chrome, it uses Chrome’s built-in video rendering.

    Also, if you visit http://www.youtube.com/html5 on any browser, it gives you a page asking if you want to enter the HTML5 beta – not any actual video. You should have checked the link first.

    Myth 2 (section 1 – penetration)

    HTML5 isn’t here yet? No, it’s not. Support for HTML5, however, is growing. Chrome, Firefox, and Safari all support HTML5 and CSS3 to varying degrees; Safari and Chrome both support h.264 video, and Firefox supports Ogg Theora video.

    The point is not ‘everyone should switch to HTML5 immediately for everything’, but rather ‘Now’s the time to start thinking seriously about what HTML5 can offer you’. For example, in the case of Vimeo, I can turn on HTML5 instead of Flash (at my option). As a result, videos on Vimeo use far less CPU – On the Mac, a typical Vimeo video uses 100% of one CPU and 20% of another to play Flash video, vs. only 20% of one to play HTML5 video. If you don’t want it, change it back.

    Myth 2 (section 2 – flexibility)

    This one was a doozy, but I’ll try to address some of the points.

    1. Customizing the video player – see http://jilion.com/sublime/video for an example of the customizations you can do to an HTML5 video player. Works in Safari and Chrome.

    2. Movie clips – we just covered this, the tag does this.

    3. Native apps – I assume you mean Adobe AIR? Personally, I can’t stand it. Every single app I’ve used that was written in AIR didn’t behave like a native application, was slow, and used up far more memory than an app should. It’s great for banging out a quick, cross-platform app, but no one I know uses it if they have a choice.

    As for the rest – no, HTML5 doesn’t do all of that. It wasn’t meant to. That’s the sort of thing Flash is (maybe) good for.

    Myth 3

    1. Canvas doesn’t support fonts – except those supported by browsers. True, but browsers like Safari and Chrome are also adding support for downloadable fonts, meaning that you, as a designer, can make a font available to the browser to use.

    2. Canvas only supports limited interactivity, so games are a no-go – I’m not sure what you mean by ‘limited interactivity’. You can capture mouse and keyboard events. Did you want more? You can certainly create games, and people are starting to do so. As a primitive example, check out this Wolfenstein 3D-esque 3D engine using Canvas: http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/creating-pseudo-3d-games-with-html-5-can-1/

    Sure, it’s not the most advanced example, but it only took a few seconds of googling to find. There are much more complex and innovative examples out there.

    3. Tools – Ironically, the very company you seem to be trying to defend, Adobe, has tools that will do this. Check out this demo from October of someone using Illustrator and Dreamweaver to create Canvas-based content: http://blogs.adobe.com/jnack/2009/10/sneak_peek_ai_fl_dw_canvas.html

    Myth 4

    1. CPU hogging. Well, of all the things I’ve seen in HTML5, none of them are cpu-intensive, except the one thing you linked (which looks like it’s doing some very inefficient things very often). Meanwhile, in my experience, without Flash blocking the entire web is geared towards draining laptop batteries as much as possible. Not ideal.

    2. Banner ads – Flash blockers aren’t the best way to get rid of ads, they’re just the best way to get rid of annoying flash that gets past your ad blocking filters. If you want to get rid of ads, use an ad-blocker that will stop your browser from downloading the Javascript that puts the ads there in the first place. This will work for HTML5 just as well.

    3. Splash pages – HTML5 means a return of splash pages? No. People who know how to build a good user experience won’t suddenly forget when they stop using Flash.

    4. Crashes. You start talking about crashes, then talk about CPU use. There’s no correlation. Regardless, Flash on Mac especially is horrendously buggy. Safari is far, far more stable now that I block the Flash plugin from doing anything unless I tell it to. This isn’t going to change, because Adobe doesn’t care about the Mac market. If they ever start to care, then maybe we’ll start seeing some improvements.

    I’m not entirely sure what the point of your blog post was. You seem to spend it all spouting off knee-jerk reactions, of the kind that implies you’re a Flash developer, and you’re afraid that you’re going to become irrelevant. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s how it comes across.

    But it doesn’t make any sense. Adobe is not afraid of Flash being killed off by HTML5; you’ve pointed out several reasons yourself why it won’t – things like throwaway browser games, or voice/video apps. The fact is that the design goals of Flash and the design goals of HTML5 overlap in some areas, but definitely not all of them. Flash isn’t going away any time soon (though I’d be thrilled if it did). What we will start to see is compatibility. Let Flash do what only Flash can do well, but let the browsers do the rest, and let them do it better. Instead of Adobe trying to optimize for every case, let Adobe focus Flash on what it needs to do best.

    What it comes down to is Adobe execs making this about ‘us or them’. They keep talking about how they have this awesome version of Flash for the iPhone waiting in the wings, but Apple is cruelly depriving its users of the joys of Flash. In reality, Adobe hasn’t bothered to give Mac users a working, stable version of Flash. For that matter, even the Mozilla Maemo team is having problems with Flash performance; Stuart Parmenter announced today that they have RC3 of Firefox for Maemo ready, but they had to turn off plugins because Flash slowed things down too much (http://blog.pavlov.net/2010/01/27/firefox-for-maemo-rc3/).

    So let’s stop this fighting. Adobe used to be a great company, maybe it will be again. They can continue to make tools, whether Flash survives or not, whether HTML5 becomes commonplace or not. That’s where their money is, and that’s fine. What we need to stop is this misdirection, the fear, uncertainty and doubt that people are spreading about ‘Flash vs. iPad’ and so on. It doesn’t help anyone if you force them to take sides.

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