So what does this all mean for Flash, and the many designers who have invested time and money in Flash-authoring tools? In the short term, Flash isn’t going anywhere—as of June, Flash Player 10 was installed on about 97 percent of all computers in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan. And given HTML5’s limited browser support, Flash remains the best option for most interactive rich-media experiences unless you’re developing content strictly for the iPhone or iPad. “Right now, Flash does a lot more consistently than HTML5 and CSS3 do by a long shot,” Gubbay says.
However, as browsers improve support for HTML5/CSS3, and better authoring tools emerge, it’s clear that these new standards-based web technologies will provide a viable alternative to Flash, at least for certain kinds of interactive rich-media content. This, along with the popularity of the iPad and iPhone, will likely prove to be powerful incentive for Flash developers to embrace HTML5.
Dead End vs. Co-Existence
In his “Thoughts on Flash,” Steve Jobs made it clear that he sees Adobe’s technology as a dead end. “Flash was created during the PC era—for PCs and mice,” he wrote. “But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards—all areas where Flash falls short.”
WHATWG’s Ian Hickson contends that “Flash is irrelevant,” because it’s a proprietary technology. “You can’t rely on technologies that are under the control of a single vendor, because if they ever change their mind about supporting you, you’re lost, or stuck with a huge migration cost,” he says. “Only free and open platforms, either in terms of open standards or open source, matter.”
But Adobe sees a future in which Flash will co-exist with HTML5 and CSS3. Many types of projects now created in Flash “will eventually be picked up by HTML and CSS,” Gubbay says. “But we’ll also see other higher-end ones that will continue to be driven by Flash.” These include “rich Internet applications, games, DRM video and whatever other things come along as time goes on.”
Zemoga’s Garcia agrees. “As a developer or a designer right now, you need to choose the proper technology,” he says. “It’s not that Flash is out and HTML5 is in.
“[For example,] if we need to build a game with a lot of graphics and interaction, or we need to provide a video player with custom buffering capabilities, the best solution continues to be on the Flash side. At this moment, HTML5 doesn’t provide such stuff.” He adds that developers who want to create similar experiences for the iPhone have little choice but to build native apps.
As HTML5 and CSS3 move into Flash territory, “we’ll continue to see Flash expanding and pushing the boundaries of where you can go,” Gubbay says. Because it’s controlled by a single vendor, “Flash can move a lot faster,” he contends, than standards-based technologies such as HTML.
But HTML isn’t standing still. “We’ve already moved on from HTML5, and indeed have dropped the version number entirely in terms of what we’re working on,” Hickson says. “The spec I work on is just defining the ever-evolving HTML and its APIs and related technologies.”
Some current features, he says, are likely to be dropped, “and we’ll add more features in the future. For example, one of the big things I expect we’ll work on this year is a peer-to-peer communication mechanism for video conferencing and gaming.” Recent additions to the spec include subtitles and captions for the
Hickson adds that “Flash isn’t really on our radar as far as HTML development goes. … [Instead] our focus is just on what people want to do that they can’t do. We’re just competing with ourselves, essentially.”
One priority for Adobe is a native 64-bit version of the Flash Player, and an Adobe rep said the company is moving “actively” on a release. Addressing concerns about performance, Adobe says it has worked with chipmakers such as Intel, ARM, nVidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments to optimize the latest version of the Flash Player for mobile devices.
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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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