Steve Jobs’ decision to pick HTML5 over Flash has incited debates over whether this means the end of Flash. But when you drill down, it’s evident that both have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it may be that they will each continue to thrive.
One example of this is the idea that HTML5’s video element will replace the need for Flash. It’s not only HTML5-ready web browsers that are pushing this – it’s a multitude of mobile devices. Combine this with Apple’s decision to not support Flash, and you’ve got a good argument. However, YouTube isn’t going to move away from Flash because “the <video> tag does not currently meet all the needs of a site like YouTube.” – such as live-streaming and dynamic video control.
Then again, increased battery life for laptops and mobile devices make the argument against Flash even more compelling. One study tested the new Macbook Air notebooks when they discovered that getting rid of the Flash Player increased the battery life by as much as 33 percent. And research shows that the amount of video available in an HTML5 video player has doubled in the last 5 months – now accounting for 54% of all video online. Still, it’s important to remember that HTML5 is not replacing Flash video, as most HTML5 videos at this time served up includes sniffer code, which auto-detects the device requesting the video, and serves up the appropriate version. That means there are two versions – one Flash and one HTML5 being stored online.
However, just like any other new technology, adoption is one of the biggest obstacles for HTML5’s video element. Users are going to be slow to adopt, but the release of IE9 should increase the rate of adoption to HTML5, and with Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera having already started supporting HTML5, we’re going to see some really cool stuff soon.
So What’s a Developer to Do?The important thing to remember when considering a technology is its application. HTML5 and Flash are just tools, and used to develop an experience for the user. Does it make sense to create a Flash-based restaurant menu when it will be inaccessible to a large segment of your mobile audience? Or, how about creating HTML5 animations for an intranet site where the IT department has not upgraded their browser since 2003?
HTML5 will reduce the importance of plug-ins, but it’s not likely that Flash will be gone next month, next year, or maybe ever. Right now there is a great demand in the marketplace for Flash developers. And there is always a demand for professionals with relevant skills. So the most important thing you can do for yourself and your career is to follow the thought-leaders in the industry and find the best websites, books, tutorials, and training videos to keep up with new developments in all relevant technologies.
Remember, it is your role as a developer to think about user experience first, the method second.
For more information on what HTML5 can do, check out InfoWorld’s “HTML5 Deep Dive” (PDF 468k).
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