When Apple CEO Steve Jobs made it clear last April that he would not permit Adobe Flash content on the iPhone or iPad, blogs and other Internet forums lit up with heated comments about the decision. Some blasted Apple for blocking a technology that drives video and animation content on many websites, including YouTube, Hulu and leading news destinations such as NYTimes.com. Others echoed Jobs’ criticisms of Flash, citing issues such as poor performance and weak security, claims that Adobe Systems later refuted.
But one group had to be particularly unhappy with Apple’s decision: the many web designers who use Flash to produce interactive rich-media experiences for their clients. (Apple recently softened its stance, permitting use of Flash as a development tool for the iPhone and iPad, but those devices still cannot view Flash content on websites.)
In Flash’s place, Apple is touting HTML5, a new web standard that will allow browsers to play video, audio and other rich-media content without the Flash Player or other plug-ins. This has led some to characterize HTML5 as a “Flash killer,” and to cast it as part of a zero-sum game in which any “win” for HTML5 is a loss for Adobe. So it may be surprising that Adobe has not only embraced this technology, but is preparing for a future when many projects currently produced in Flash are created instead with HTML5 and related standards such as CSS3 and SVG.
“It’s the first time in a long time that we’ve really seen HTML as a standard move forward,” says Paul Gubbay, vice president of engineering, design & web at Adobe. And with customers expressing interest in HTML5, “it’s up to us to figure out how to help them be successful with it.”
But what exactly is HTML5? In a nutshell, it’s the first major revision to HTML in more than 10 years. Its plug-in-free video capabilities have received most of the attention, but it also promises to make web pages behave more like desktop applications through features such as drag-and-drop and offline data storage. And it will enable improved support for all mobile devices, not just the iPhone and iPad.
At present, it’s limited primarily by uneven browser support and a dearth of robust authoring tools for designers and developers, both of which are likely to be addressed within the next year or two. Adobe itself has begun moving on the latter front by releasing extensions to Dreamweaver and Illustrator that support the new web technologies. So HTML5 is clearly the future. The question is whether Flash also will have a role to play. Adobe and content developers who work with its tools say yes. Apple has been is leading the chorus of those who say no, at least when it comes to mobile devices.
Either way, now is a good time for designers to begin looking into these new technologies. That’s what we’ll do in the article that follows, focusing on the features likely to be of greatest interest to creative professionals, particularly those who work with Flash.
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Stephen Beale has been writing about computer technology since 1983. He’s the author of seven books on computer applications in the graphic arts and a former news and reviews editor for Macworld. He’s currently editor of a website for public relations professionals in health and medicine. www.sbealeonline.com
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