Yesterday there were a couple of important posts that have reignited the fire under the HTML5 vs Flash debate. The first was Thoughts On Flash from Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The second was the riposte from Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, via Alan Murray’s exclusive interview, Highlights: The Journal’s Exclusive Interview With Adobe CEO.
Unsurprisingly these views have propagated around the Internet like wildfire. For a long while there have been claims and counter claims about HTML5 signalling the death of Flash, however this is the first time that someone in Jobs’ position has taken such a firm position.
Apple won’t support Flash on its mobile devices
Jobs’ post highlighted several of the shortcomings of Flash, most of which, if not all, have remarked on by others before. The crucial thing is the unequivocal statement that Apple won’t support Flash on its mobile devices because of these. This is interesting in its own right, however reading between the lines, where does this leave Apple with respect to the other main RIA, Microsoft’s Silverlight, since many of Jobs’ criticisms of Flash apply to it too?
Two workflows, one for Apple devices and one for others?
The response from Narayen is interesting too. However I was left wondering if he had misunderstood part of the message that I believe Jobs’ was delivering. Speaking to Alan Murray, Narayen had the following to say of Jobs’ post:
He says that Apple’s restrictiveness is just going to make it “cumbersome” for developers who are trying to make products that work on many devices. They’re going to have to have “two workflows” … one for Apple devices and one for others.
Mr. Narayen poses a question to Alan Murray, asking him if the Journal would “want to have stovepipes” — or separate development processes — when it is creating content. Mr. Murray says that certainly “it would be better if you could use one set” of development tools.
Both of these statements make it clear that Narayen is, unsurprisingly, considering that developers will only ever build their applications in Flash. Given that Apple have prevented Flash from running on its mobile devices, those applications will need to be rewritten. This is true if the developer wants to write the application in Flash, but also wants it to work on the iPhone. My interpretation of Jobs’ post was that if you want to write your multiple device application just once, there’s nothing stopping you; Apple devices all support HTML. That said, there is an obvious monetary incentive to write an iPhone application natively rather than as a webapp, and they get access to more of the phones features too.
As anyone who has worked with HTML knows there are differences between the browsers which can make it difficult to create an application that looks and works and exactly as intended across all of them. However I am optimistic about this. Over the last six months I have written two relatively complex webapps targeted at an iPhone (one of them demonstrating how we could run our Caplin Trader product on a mobile device), both of which appeared to work without any tweaks on an Android phone. The main problem with is adoption of HTML5 within browsers, especially on mobile devices. Fortunately Blackberry, which has been lagging behind with its browser, is introducing a new webkit based browser.
Where do we go from here?
This is certainly not the end of the HTML5 vs Flash debate, however the statement from Jobs’ is profound. Unless there is a major change of heart from Apple anyone looking to build applications that want to run across multiple devices will need to write them once in HTML, or at least twice in any other language.
The question is how will the web development community respond? A number of people have already nailed their colours to one of the particular masts, and the flame war will inevitably continue. Have you already chosen a side? Do you believe that there is still a place for HTML and Flash to exist in harmony? Or are you still sitting on the fence?