News Analysis: HTML5 eliminates the need for developers to use Flash in mobile devices.
In the "old days" of the Internet (before 1996), Websites had
to refresh each page if changes were made. This meant graphics and animation on
different sites were very difficult to develop and ran poorly due to limited
connectivity. Using the Web was like looking at a slide show: Just one page flipping
Then, Macromedia developed and introduced Flash in 1996. Adobe
Systems subsequently acquired Macromedia in 2005. Using Flash, developers could
easily integrate animation, motion and video on a Website. These elements became "live" and
interactive. There was a rush to add
Flash to sites, and hundreds of thousands of developers learned how to
integrate Flash into their clients' Websites.
Millions of sites quickly came alive using Flash. It was amazing that
one technology-Flash-had such a profound effect on the entire Internet.
However, as smartphones came to market, Web developers were
faced with the challenge of how to present large Web pages on devices that had
small screens. Developers also had to deal with much slower, mostly wireless connections.
Flash greatly improved the user experience for the Web but made the user
experience often much worse when accessed by mobile devices.
Apple determined early on with the iPhone that Web access
using Flash in Safari on iOS devices wouldn't give users a great
experience. Yes, it would work, but it
would hamper performance and battery
life. Apple decided to declare Flash "off
limits" for mobile devices including the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
A war broke out between Apple and Adobe. When someone used
an iPad and went to one of the millions of Flash-enabled Websites, a message
came up on the screen saying that the Flash Player plug-in was needed and
halted further interaction. Note that
Apple never complained about Flash being used with Mac desktops or portables.
Rather, it was all about mobile, and Apple clearly put a line in the sand,
saying that Flash would not pass the line and be acceptable on iOS devices.
In 2010, as an industry analyst, I called for Adobe, the Web development community
and Apple to hold a Flash Summit so that a viable solution could be reached to
settle the ongoing war between these two respected players in Internet
technology. If there were errors that
made Flash undesirable for mobile devices, then I called for Adobe to put their
best engineers on the case to solve the problem.
I also suggested that Apple simply put a tax on the user: If
you wanted to use Flash-enabled Websites on an iOS device, you'd pay Apple a
fee in order to do that. While the Flash Summit didn't happen, a number of Web
developers and standards organizations decided to include many of the features
in Flash in the next generation of HTML-Version 5.0.
Developers could build mobile-optimized Websites using HTML5
that would give users an experience very similar to what they had using Flash
on Websites designed for desktops and notebooks. Apple was pleased that HTML5
would operate efficiently on mobile devices and publicly supported it.
Just last week, Adobe relented and agreed to abandon Flash
on mobile and focus on supporting HTML5.
"HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices,
in some cases exclusively. This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and
deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms," said Danny Winokur,
vice president and general manager of Interactive Development at Adobe.
What does this mean for mobile developers? Developers now
have to consider three development environments to address desktop and mobile
device access: 1). traditional Websites using Flash for desktop and laptop
access, 2) mobile-optimized Websites using HTML5 for mobile-device Web access,
and 3) mobile-application development that may interact with Web resources on
the back end.
Some seem to feel that Adobe lost the battle with Apple over
Flash. A better way to reflect on this saga is to realize that by creating
Flash, Adobe allowed the Web to mature much faster than it would have without
Flash. For the people who were responsible for maintaining HTML standards,
Flash became the vision for the future of HTML. Adobe is now focusing its mobile
developer solutions on Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)
that helps developers use Flash technology and develop apps that will run
across multiple mobile platforms such as iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows
As HTML5 came to fruition, Flash-like capabilities such as
animation without screen re-write, non-refresh page alterations and interactive
graphics became part of the new standard. We have first Macromedia and later Adobe
to thank for stepping up and "showing us the way" to make the Web behave in
ways that greatly enhanced the user experience.
Now, with HTML5, users of mobile devices who will access the
Internet with their mobile-device browsers will get many of these benefits and enjoy their mobile-optimized Web
J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D., is Principal Analyst of Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. Dr. Purdy has been covering mobile, wireless, cloud & enterprise for the past 20+ years. He writes analysis and recommendations each week in an easy-to-read manner that helps people better understand important technology issues and assist them in making better technology purchasing decisions.
Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in a column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.