TheONbutton Durham Computer Services

Remote IT Support and Computer & Technology Help in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh NC

iPad, Flash and HTML5: What’s it all about?

Since the iPad announcement last week, much discussion has focused upon the iPad’s lack of Flash support. So what is Flash and why are people getting so upset?

What is Flash?

Flash is a hugely popular a software technology which many websites use for animations, video and other multimedia services like music streaming. According to its producer, Adobe, Flash is used by almost 99% of all internet users and if you don’t recall loading it directly, that’s because it tends to sit in the background minding its own business until you load a site which makes it spring into action. If you’ve ever watched a video on YouTube, Hulu, Vimeo or BBC’s iPlayer, visited CNN or the New York Times or listened to music on Pandora or Lala then chances are you’ve used Flash.  It’s central to the internet multimedia experience.

Recapping the iPad story

During Steve Jobs’ iPad demo on Wednesday, he navigated to the New York Times and there was a gaping hole in the page where the Flash graphic would have been on a netbook, laptop or most other internet devices.  That’s because the iPad, along with the iPhone and iPod Touch don’t support Flash.  This is forgivable on a small screened cellphone but will probably spoil the internet experience on the large 9.7″ screen of the iPad.  You get the gist of why this has upset some people.

Why is this happening?

The story goes something like this: We all want Flash on the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, and it would appear that Adobe wants to give it to us. Cue venomous spat between Apple and Adobe in which Adobe claims that Apple is inhibiting innovation by not allowing Flash to be installed on iPhone OS devices.  Meanwhile Steve Jobs allegedly claimed in a company town hall that whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash. (Wow. Mac and crashes…Two words I’m surprised to hear Steve Jobs mentioning in connection with each other.)

So there’s quite the war a’brewin and Apple seems to be hoping that something is going to replace Flash.

Are there alternatives?

Competing technologies have recently emerged such as Silverlight, which NBC used to live-stream the 2008 Olympics. Netflix also streams its content using Silverlight and its a great player. Silverlight can be run effectively on less powerful computers compared to Flash.

The other competitor gaining column inches recently is HTML5, which is an emerging technology being piloted by YouTube and Vimeo alongside their Flash players. However HTML5 is only supported by some web browsers and notably Internet Explorer is not one of them. Since the majority of web users use Internet Explorer and almost 99% use Flash, I would say it may be at least a couple of years before we see any meaningful figures of significant HTML5 penetration across web users worldwide.

What’s wrong with Flash?

Some enthusiasts want this change to happen sooner because Flash can be very demanding of computer resources.  It typically runs slower than HTML5 and Silverlight on low power machines like netbooks.  The reason for this is that Flash only engages the main processor when it does its magic rather than engaging the computer’s graphics processor as well.  This results in computers slowing to a crawl because the main processor becomes so occupied and is the cause of YouTube videos sometimes looking jerky when played on slow computers.

Adobe is aware of this problem and announced a few months ago that it will release a new version of Flash this year which will use graphics hardware acceleration to decode HD Flash videos. Not all devices will see a benefit, just those with a modern graphics chipset such as Intel’s GMA4500 which is now commonly found in many mainstream laptops. The net effect should be more smoother playback and happier CPUs.

Is Flash going anywhere soon?

I expect this hardware acceleration will strengthen Flash’s position at the expense of both HTML5 and Silverlight. Some people might say “Okay, but what about mobile devices which don’t have hardware HD decoders?”.  I say, in 2009 the standard smartphone had a 500-600MHz processor, in 2010 that benchmark increases to 1GHz. High end smartphones like the Nokia N900 are Flash capable and I expect forthcoming generations to even be Flash HD capable.

While there are certainly more efficient solutions available, Flash is too deeply embedded in the daily workings of the internet and its users for its dominance to be meaningfully challenged anytime soon. That means in my view it will be a long time before the iPad becomes a compelling internet device, if Apple pins its hoped upon HTML5 supplanting Flash anytime soon.  When you produce for the masses, you need to give the masses what they want.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Advertisements

Feb 2, 2010 - Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Software | , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. […] we and much of the world noted recently, the iPhone and subsequent Apple devices running its OS such as the iPod Touch and iPad do not […]

    Pingback by Google announces Flash on Android, turns up the heat on iPhone and Windows Phone 7 « theONbutton | Feb 17, 2010 | Reply

  2. […] Thre’s a funny dynamic going on in the world of Flash which, let’s remember is used by almost the whole world.  On the one hand the likes of Apple are trying to encourage the world away from Flash […]

    Pingback by Flash 10.1 Beta 3 brings GPU acceleration to GMA500 netbooks « theONbutton | Feb 24, 2010 | Reply

  3. […] Flash is integral to so much online multimedia content.  As we previously explained part of Apple’s contention is that Flash is too processor intensive, which we agree with, and the company is pushing for HTML5 to be more […]

    Pingback by theONbutton Flash test result: Without hardware acceleration Apple offers Windows a win by default as the Flash HD platform of choice « theONbutton | Mar 11, 2010 | Reply

  4. […] Flash is integral to so much online multimedia content.  As we previously explained part of Apple’s contention is that Flash is too processor intensive, which we agree with, and the company is pushing for HTML5 to be more […]

    Pingback by theONbutton Flash HD video test result: Without hardware acceleration Apple offers Windows a win by default « theONbutton | Mar 11, 2010 | Reply

  5. […] Flash is integral to so much online multimedia content.  As we previously explained part of Apple’s contention is that Flash is too processor intensive, which we agree with, and the company is pushing for HTML5 to be more […]

    Pingback by theONbutton Flash HD video test: Without hardware acceleration Apple offers Windows a win by default « theONbutton | Mar 11, 2010 | Reply

  6. I think Apple have seized on the so called technical limitations of Flash to play wedge politics and divide the technorati for their own advantage. While we are arguing, they are building arguably the most restrictive and self serving platform ever (well, perhaps since The Microsoft Network). I have a petition if you want to sign it at flash4ipad.com

    Comment by paul knight | Mar 24, 2010 | Reply


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: