Flash vs HTML5 Crisis Averted?

by John Rettie

Kevin Lynch, Adobe’s popular chief technology officer, told over 4000 developers at Adobe Max that HTML5 and Flash can coexist.

January 01, 2011 — By now I am sure everyone reading this column knows about the controversy between Apple and Adobe over the issue of Flash and its unavailability on the iPhone and iPad.
Although it really only became a major topic with the introduction of the iPad, it is something that has been simmering for some time and it involves more than just Apple.

Many people have been upset with the problems caused by Flash for a long time. There are several problems with the Flash reader, which is installed on the majority of computers because it is so widely used by Web sites for displaying animations, videos and even for font rendering. The main problem is that Flash tends to use a lot of processing power and slows down the experience of viewing Web sites. Then there is the problem of search engine optimization (SEO), as search engine robots cannot easily read Flash.

I found that Flash caused so many problems on my Mac that I installed a plug-in called ClicktoFlash that stops any Flash component from running unless you specifically click on it. It has proven to be a godsend as it makes Web sites faster, and yet, with a single click, I can view the Flash part if I want to.

Sadly many Web sites are written entirely in Flash, which means you just get a blank screen at first, and if they have not written a parallel site in HTML they will not be visible at all on an iPhone or iPad.

Okay, enough negativity. So what about the positives? If you visit a Web site with games or stylish presentations, they work well with Flash. It is much easier for a Flash developer to create interactive Web sites and strong graphics in Flash than using just HTML.

Photographers like Flash because it allows for a visually strong display of images, and other than taking a screen shot, the image cannot be downloaded.

Personally, I have no problem with Flash being used for portfolio pages on a photography Web site, but I am not a fan of using Flash for every page, especially the opening page and pages with information such as contact details and bios. In my view, these pages should always be written in HTML for readability on all devices and for the best SEO.

Adobe MAX conference
With this controversy in mind, it was fascinating to attend the recent Adobe MAX conference for developers. Many people probably only think of Adobe as the publisher of Photoshop and other programs in the Creative Suite, but Adobe actually produces a wide variety of different tools mainly aimed at programmers and developers.

While presenters took many digs at Apple for not allowing Flash on the iPhone and iPad, it was encouraging to see many of them using Apple Macs in their presentations.

In fact, Adobe went out of the way to demonstrate how it is developing programs that work with HTML5. For example, it demonstrated an upcoming program called Edge that will help developers create animated Web sites using HTML5 instead of Flash. It even showed a program that will convert Flash into HTML5.

What was perhaps more encouraging was the announcement that Adobe is contributing to WebKit, which is the underlying open source engine behind Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome browsers. In addition, Adobe is also working with jQuery, which is an open source JavaScript library that, when used in conjunction with HTML and CSS, can produce highly interactive Web pages without resorting to Flash.

I left the conference with the understanding that Adobe is moving along the same path as Apple and Google in helping promote open-source solutions to developing Web pages and apps.

Just to reinforce this I checked out several blogs on Adobe’s Web site (blogs.adobe.com) and the bloggers seem to agree with this philosophy as well. Indeed, one Adobe blogger suggests that Flash developers have often abused Flash and that they have to start using it only when it makes sense. She suggests as an example, that making a slideshow of one photo merging into another is not a good use of Flash.

For those of us who think Flash is used too often, the attitude of Adobe was encouraging. I reckon that as Adobe improves Flash and develops new techniques for creating interactive content it will not be long before we’ll see Flash appearing on Apple’s iOS. As Adobe rightly says, Flash and HTML5 can coexist.

The Future is Smartphones and Tablets
I’ll bet many readers like me are using their smartphones as a replacement for a computer, not only when you’re traveling but even around the house when you want to check mail or news quickly. I am even using my iPhone as my primary camera in many situations when I need a quick photo and I do not want to bother firing up my DSLR.

I’ll admit that I was not one of the early adopters of an iPhone as I waited four months after the original iPhone was introduced before I purchased one.

It seems the same scenario has now played itself out for me with the iPad. I did not buy one when it was first launched as I had planned to wait until the second generation hits the market next year. But the day before I finished writing this column I was “forced” to buy one. Why? Because I had seen several demonstrations of magazines produced for the iPad and when I saw two people in a restaurant reading news on them I decided I could wait no longer. The first thing I noticed is that the screen resolution of the iPad is not nearly as nice as the iPhone 4. No surprise there as it does not have the Retina Display of the iPhone 4.

The iPad’s 9.7-inch screen has 1024 x 768-pixel resolution at 132-pixels per inch (ppi) compared to the iPhone 4’s 960 x 640-pixel resolution at 326ppi. Considering how much bigger the iPad is compared to the iPhone, it does not display much more information. In many ways it feels quite crude. Presumably Apple will include Retina in the next generation iPad, which would increase the overall screen resolution to 2530 x 900, which is more screen real estate than you’ll see on the 27-inch iMac.

At the Adobe MAX conference, Motorola gave each of the 4000 attendees a Droid 2 smart phone. It was a smart move as Google, the developer of the Android OS, pushes hard to make the operating system more popular than the Apple iOS used in the iPhone.

I have no intention of switching to Verizon, as I like the flexibility of having a GSM phone. However, it is useful for someone like me who has to review apps and check out Web sites to be able to see how they work on different platforms. I can use the Droid with Wi-Fi to access the Internet. The only thing I can’t do is make phone calls—but who cares about that? It’s a small part of the functionality of a modern smartphone.

One of the major problems with all these devices is that they use different operating systems and have different size screens. This is quite a hindrance to developers because it gives them more work to do. Adobe is trying to overcome the situation with tools that will allow a developer to create an app or Web site once and then the program will automatically format all the different variations needed for use on a variety of smartphones and tablets.

It’s an important tool as industry pundits predict that by the end of 2012 over half of visitors to Web sites will be using smartphones rather than regular old computers. It’s for this reason alone that we all need to plan our Web sites so that they will work just as well on an iPhone or Android phone as they do on a 27-inch iMac desktop computer.

iPhone “Favicons”
In the Aug./Sept. 2009 issue of AfterCapture I described how to create favicons, those small graphics to the left of a Web site URL in your browser’s address bar. They are only 16 x 16-pixels in size, so you are really limited in what can be placed there. If you search for “create favicon” you’ll find numerous sites that can easily make one for you and also tell you how to add them to your Web site. If you want to be a bit more dramatic you can also find sites that will create a scrolling favicon. They might be old hat, but one that displays scrolling text is not too bad.

When you save a link to a Web site on an iPhone you have the choice of just creating a bookmark or adding an icon to your home page. In this case you want to have a larger icon, which has the name “apple-touch-icon.png” located in the root folder of your Web site. Then when a person adds your site to their home page they will see a proper icon rather than just a small screen grab of the page. Safari on the iPhone will automatically add the gloss and drop shadow unless you designate it as a “precomposed” graphic. If you search for them you’ll also find a page on Apple’s own Web site that describes the requirements in detail.

As more and more people use smartphones, it is important to make sure that your Web site looks just as good on an iPhone as it does on a desktop computer.

John Rettie is a photojournalist who resides in Santa Barbara, CA. He has been using a computer for 29 years, and has been on the Internet for 14 years. Now he’s learning how it all works—learn more and find links to resources on his Web site at www.webinsight.info or contact him directly at john@johnrettie.com

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