The competition between the Web and proprietary rich platforms, including Windows, Mac OS, iPhone/iPad, Adobe’s Flash/AIR and Microsoft’s Silverlight, is not new. But with the emergence of HTML 5 and imminent support for it in the next release of the major Web browsers, the battle is heating up. And with the announcements made Wednesday at Google’s I/O conference, it’s getting kicked up yet another notch. The impact of this platform battle on companies in the media and advertising world, and the developers who serve them, is significant. The most prominent question is whether video and rich media online will shift towards pure HTML and away from plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight. In fact, certain features in HTML 5 make it suitable for development for line of business applications as well, further threatening those plug-in technologies. So what’s the deal? Is this real or hype? To answer that question, I’ve done my own research into HTML 5’s features and talked to several media-focused, New York area developers to get their opinions. I present my findings to you in this post. Before bearing down into HTML 5 specifics and practitioners’ quotes, let’s set the context. To understand what HTML 5 can do, take a look at this video of Sports Illustrated’s HTML 5 prototype. This should start to get you bought into the idea that HTML 5 could be a game-changer.
Next, if you happen to have installed the beta version of Google’s Chrome 5 browser, take a look at the page linked to below, and in that page, click on any of the game thumbnails to see what’s possible, without a plug-in, in this brave new world. (Note, although the instructions for each game tell you to press the A key to start, press the Z key instead.). Here’s the link: http://www.kesiev.com/akihabara
As an adjunct to what’s enabled by HTML 5, consider the various transforms that are part of CSS 3. If you’re running Safari as your browser, the following link will showcase this live; if not, you’ll see a bitmap that will give you an idea of what’s possible: http://webkit.org/blog/386/3d-transforms
- 2D drawing capabilities and 3D transforms. 2D drawing instructions can be embedded statically into a Web page; application interactivity and animation can be achieved through script. As mentioned above, 3D transforms are technically part of version 3 of the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) spec, rather than HTML 5, but they can nonetheless be thought of as part of the bundle. They allow for rendering of 3D images and animations that, together with 2D drawing, make HTML-based games much more feasible than they are presently, as the links above demonstrate.
- Embedded audio and video. A media player can appear directly in a rendered Web page, using HTML markup and no plug-ins. Alternately, player controls can be hidden and the content can play automatically.
- Major enhancements to form-based input. This includes such things as specification of required fields, embedding of text “hints” into a control, limiting valid input on a field to dates, email addresses or a list of values. There’s more to this, but the gist is that line-of-business applications, with complicated input and data validation, are supported directly
- Offline caching, local storage and client-side SQL database. These facilities allow Web applications to function more like native apps, even if no internet connection is available.
Taken together, these features position HTML to compete with, and perhaps overtake, Adobe’s Flash/AIR (and Microsoft’s Silverlight) as a viable Web platform for media, RIAs (rich internet applications – apps that function more like desktop software than Web sites) and interactive Web content, including games. What do players in the media world think about this? From the embedded video above, we know what Sports Illustrated (and, therefore, Time Warner) think. Hulu, the major Internet site for broadcast TV content, is on record as saying HTML5 video does not pass muster with them, at least not yet. YouTube, on the other hand, already has an experimental HTML 5-based version of their site
. TechCrunch has reported
that NetFlix is flirting with HTML 5 too, especially as it pertains to embedded browsers in TV-based devices. And the New York Times’ Web site now embeds some video clips without resorting to Flash. They have to – otherwise iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad users couldn’t see them in the Mobile Safari browser. Speaking of the iPad, MIchael Scafidi, Razorfish
’s Technology Director and Presentation Layer Technology Practice Lead, in the firm’s New York City office, believes it to be a catalyst for HTML 5 adoption. When I asked him whether he thought Flash would lose share to the new open Web standard, he said “For advertising on the iPad, yes, specifically due to the lack of support of Flash on the iPad.” On the current state of the art in Web browsers, Scafidi commented “IE 8 will not support HTML 5 in banners so an alternative will need to be used until IE9. Outside of the iPad and iPhone Flash will still be used for more immersive media and advertising.” What do other media-focused developers think about all this? I talked to several to get their opinions. Michael Pinto is CEO and Founder of Very Memorable Design
whose primary focus has been to help marketing directors get traction online. The firm’s client roster includes the likes Time, Inc., Scholastic and PBS. Pinto predicts that “More and more microsites that were done entirely in Flash will be done more and more using jQuery. I can also see slideshows and video now being done without Flash. However if you needed to create a game or highly interactive activity Flash would still be the way to go for the web.” A dissenting view comes from Jesse Erlbaum, CEO of The Erlbaum Group, LLC
with greater cross-browser compatibility and consistency due to the ubiquity of Flash.” Adobe (maker of Flash since its 2005 acquisition of Macromedia) likely agrees. And for better or worse, they’ve decided to address this shortcoming of HTML 5, even at risk of diminishing their Flash platfrom. Yesterday Adobe announced that their hugely popular Deamweaver Web design authoring tool would directly support HTML 5 and CSS 3 development. In fact, the Adobe Dreamweaver CS5 HTML5 Pack is downloadable now from Adobe Labs
. Maybe Adobe is bowing to pressure from ardent Web professionals like Scott Kellum, Lead Designer at Channel V Media
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