There’s been a lot of talk lately about the death of Flash and the rise of HTML5, but what does it mean for your business?
Flash has been a Web mainstay for years, available on 99 percent of computers and for many mobile users as well, driving Web animations, videos, advertisements, games, and other interactive applications. Some businesses still build their sites entirely with Flash, but most just use it as an element in their site design — to add interactivity, motion, and multimedia capabilities.
The problem with Flash is that search engines can’t read it, so it doesn’t do anything for your search engine optimization, and users must have an Adobe Flash Player installed and updated to support the version of Flash you’re displaying. Worse yet, some devices — notably Apple’s iPad and handheld devices — don’t support Flash at all.
These new devices do, however, support at least some form of HTML5, the newest version of HTML, which does away with the need for a third-party player to render animations and videos and offers a host of other advanced features. Though it’s still in draft form and isn’t expected to be complete until 2012, a lot of browsers, including the latest versions of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Opera, are already starting to adopt many of the new HTML5 specifications.
Beyond interactive animations and easily embedded videos, these new specs include inline document editing and 2-D drawing, and offline browser storage (allowing the use of some online features even when offline). HTML5 also bests Flash when it comes to site accessibility and readability, which can be a boon for SEO. With a new markup that includes clear tags for headers, footers, navigation, sidebars, articles, and other standard page elements, it will be obvious what content is presented where and what weight it should be given.
Still, it’s hard to call HTML5 a Flash killer — at least in the short term. No versions of Internet Explorer, still the most popular browser, support HTML5 yet, and it’s unclear when Microsoft will release an update. There are workarounds to get the new elements to function, but they’re not an ideal solution for most sites. And with a large percentage of users still on the 9-year-old IE 6, it’s hard to imagine a quick or complete adoption rate of a new release.
In addition to supporting outdated but pervasive browsers, developers will also have to learn some new skills. Designers trained to create Flash files won’t necessarily be able to pick up a new method of coding complex applications and interactions quickly. There’s a steep learning curve involved with creating content for HTML5’s Canvas, and until there are better tools for designers to create Canvas scripts (right now most work has to be coded by hand) development will likely be expensive, slow, and not widely available.
Though a move away from Flash won’t be quick, it’s still important to start looking ahead. If you’re using Flash heavily, you may want to start reconsidering your site’s design to reach users that aren’t getting the full experience. And don’t expect Flash to disappear entirely. It’s still evolving and improving itself.
Ultimately, as HTML5 gets closer to becoming a standard, you’ll have to look at who is on your site and how they need to interact with your information. Accessibility is the most important factor, and achieving the end result you want for your site may require some duplicate work from your designer — either to replace Flash files that can’t be viewed on all devices or to make HTML5 elements compatible with browsers that don’t support it. In the end, you want to make your customers happy.