By Sean Hopen – Consultant
HTML5 is the latest version of HTML. This new standard provides HTML features that were previously offered only through plug-ins like the Flash player. I’ve been wondering where this puts Flex and Flash. This post summarizes what I’ve recently discovered.
From a business point of view, we want to use HTML5 as much as possible for maximum reach. One of the biggest issues for Flex is Apple’s refusal to support plug-ins on its iOS (see here). Note, we can now develop apps for the iPhone or iPad, it’s just that the browser will not allow Flash content from webpage’s to play in the plug-in. This may force enterprises to develop simpler apps on HTML5 or modify their RIA’s to work on mobile devices. Arguably, mobile devices need a different design anyway, so creating separate apps isn’t really so onerous from a development point of view. But from a deployment point of view it’s definitely lacking — visiting a webpage beats getting an app from the AppStore, even if it’s free.
The open standard is a very good thing for business. There will be more innovation, and better sharing and collaborating via the standard. Old HTML and XML are excellent examples of how an open standard fosters competition, as opposed to single-vendor platforms where one company controls the future as well as access to the technology.
Whatever its apparent shortcomings are now, who knows what we’ll do with HTML5 in the future. From a developers standpoint it’s going to be time-consuming learning about, working around, and testing for the compatibility issues – some things may not look right, or even work on some browsers. And we have to keep track of each version; whereas Flex and Silverlight are pretty much guaranteed to look the same everywhere (somewhat like PDF does for documents). Also HTML5 is still in draft, though some of its features are already implemented in browsers.
Third party tools and libraries can help ease the pain of creating HTML5 that looks the same everywhere. But if third parties are needed to make HTML5 easier to work with, I wonder if this doesn’t mock the open standard. We still have to choose the vendor of our tools, which if proprietary, become a de facto platform again. The point is: chose your vendors wisely!
From a user’s point of view, the HTML5 experience is not likely to be as rich as you can get with Flash and Flex except for simpler interactions, but still way better than the old HTML (which can only be good for users in terms of cost, and quality of experience).
HTML5 will be a good choice for simpler sites that need maximum reach. And anything that can be done in HTML5 should be in my opinion. It’s also important to note that the choice isn’t mutually exclusive. RIA’s will work with HTML5, and Microsoft and Adobe both seem committed to making this work (ex. Adobe’s flash-to-html5 tool, and Microsoft’s focus on HTML5).
Lastly, there is a good blog post from Gartner on this topic (see here). In particular I think his last point is an important warning — that most people won’t use Flash or HTML5 to its potential because:
“Most enterprises don’t care enough about the user experience to change their habits (developer-driven, vendor-driven, stakeholder-driven). The principles of creating effective user experiences are well-known among successful external-facing ecommerce or consumer sites such as Amazon, eBay, Expedia or Facebook. Unfortunately, it will likely be a long time before these principles become part of the average enterprise skillset.”
I’m more optimistic about that, but user experience is something we still have to evangelize for.