Amadeus Consulting Discusses Why Adobe® and Apple® Are Fighting Over the Internet
The battle between HTML5, FlashÂ®, and other related technologies has been raging pretty heavily over the last few months. This is in part because of statements made by Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs, responses from Adobe and responses from various aspects of the industry.
Here is what the debate comes down to:Â Adobe FlashÂ® is privately owned, and has some weaknesses, but it is used on over 90% of computers and at least 60% of internet video. But in protest of Flash’s weaknesses, Apple refuses to support Flash on any of its mobile devices and instead is pushing towards support of HTML5, which promises to provide some of the same functionality of Flash. Unfortunately, HTML5 is far from a completed technology and is not ready for a full launch anytime soon.
Adobe has fought back by launching an ad campaign which criticizes Apple for strictly controlling its own platform; including content censoring and developer controls.
The debate will not be resolved anytime soon, however it does provide insights on fundamental aspects of Internet technologies; as well as highlights common issues that should be considered when creating new websites or rich Internet applications.
We’ve created a quick rundown of the different issues, which should help you better understand the technologies and what this all means.
In very simple terms, HTML describes the language used to make websites display content in the way we want. A web browser, such as Internet Explorer or Safari, reads the HTML code and converts that into a readable and usable format.
Currently, web browsers need additional add-ons and plug-ins in order to play most media content. One of the biggest features of HTML5 is the ability to create video or interactive content without the need for external applications such as Flash or Silverlightâ¢. This feature is possible for HTML5 video because the video content revolves around a video codec called H.264. A codec describes how videos are encoded and decoded, and H.264 provides very efficient decoding making it optimal for use in high definition video.
Although HTML5 is being developed by a consortium of professionals, represented by Apple, Googleâ¢, and many others, full HTML5 integration is still a few years away. This depends largely on creating HTML5-compatible browsers. Even though standardization has yet to be finalized, Apple’s SafariÂ®, and Google’s Chromeâ¢ are already well on their way to compatibility and support of most HTML5 features.
However, Microsoft’sÂ® Internet ExplorerÂ® still dominates the browsing market and even nine-year-old IE 6 still maintains 10% of the browsing market. So while Microsoft promises to make IE 9 somewhat compatible, it is unclear what will be done for IE 6, 7, and 8.
This presents a predicament for those wishing to launch a new site that embraces the technology: What is the point of a HTML5 site if 50% of your visitors will not be able view it properly? Of course, technical innovation should not be hindered by outdated technology, but it is something to consider when designing a new site.
As far as codec’s go, H.264 is really good. It encodes a vast amount of visual data into a tiny space without sacrificing much quality. This means that you can stream HD video over slower connections, which is excellent for internet video, mobile content, and full HD video.
H.264 is also used to provide the high quality video in Blu-rayâ¢ Discs, digital cameras and digital broadcasting. In fact, most modern computer processors are specially designed to be able to decode H.264 without the need for additional software to do the decoding. This makes the H.264 codec extremely efficient, especially on mobile devices, since it generally takes considerably less battery power to decode and view.
But keep in mind that H.264 is only a codec. It doesn’t do anything by itself except encode and decode video, and it still needs to be played back by a browser or media platform. Even though some browsers promise to support H.264 without the need for a media player, media players can also play H.264 video. In fact, Flash has supported the H.264 codec since 2007 (although Apple’s QuickTimeÂ® player has supported most H.264 formats since 2005).
Even so, a codec is not a replacement for a media platform. For content sites like Huluâ¢, or any television network site, H.264 simply does not provide enough utility on its own to be embedded into a webpage without the support of a proprietary media player. One issue is that H.264 and HTML5 do not provide any sort of content protection. In the case of Hulu, or any television network that wishes to protect its content and prevent (or at least make it difficult) for people to download content, a third-party media player is required. For video sharing sites, such as YouTubeâ¢, copyright controls may not be as necessary.
Also, on its own, H.264 does not allow adaptive streaming â the ability to continue to play video despite the user’s changing bandwidth availability. This is important for many users who want to watch live content, or do not want to continually buffer the video.
There are also legal considerations with H.264, which is a proprietary software technology which dictates the payment of royalty fees for commercial users with user agreements. According to some sources, Adobe pays over $3 million each year just to allow Flash to play H.264 video.
Another codec, VP8, which is now owned by Google, promises to be a suitable alternative to H.264, and will be entirely open source. Although VP8 is not as widespread and does not have the hardware support that H.264 does, it promises to be a strong competitor by bringing further efficiency and quality to video.
While both platforms are important in the future of the Internet, and both help bolster the ability of HTML5, neither can replace full media platforms such as Flash or Silverlight.
One of the benefits to Flash and similar applications is they provide consistency across different browsers and operating systems. Instead of making modifications to a site for each possible browser, Flash manages those differences and provides a consistent user experience.
Flash also allows better content management and content controls than HTML5. As discussed above, Flash provides content protections, which prevents (or at least makes it more difficult) people from grabbing video or other media from your site.
Criticisms of Flash include major security flaws, which are among the top security exploits in computers. While it is true that Flash has only a few number of security holes, less even than Apple’s QuickTime, the security holes in Flash are much more substantial.
Flash also has some compatibility issues, and has been blamed for causing Macs to crash, as well as eating up battery life in laptops and mobile devices.
Although Apple has decided not to allow Flash on its mobile products, 19 of the other 20 top manufactures have committed to making their products compatible or eventually compatible with Flash. This means that while Flash based applications may not be currently viewable on most mobile devices, they will be fairly soon.
Even so, according to Adobe, Flash is on 98% of PCs, which makes it useful as a standard content delivery platform. Moreover, 85 of the top 100 websites use Flash content, 70% of web games use Flash, and 75% of video is viewed in flash player.
In other words, Flash has become a major component in web technologies. Is its position justified?Â Perhaps. It allowed for sites like YouTube to become mainstream and ushered in an era of Internet video and interactive digital content. It is evolving and still imperfect, but it successfully fills a need.
In fact, there are currently 3.5 million developers that use the Flash Platform (according to Adobe), which may be an indication of its usefulness as a content and media system for years to come. But, as with most technologies, competitors will come. Already Microsoft’s Silverlight provides some powerful capabilities and improvements, and HTML5 will remove the necessity for Flash in many situations.
So is Flash dying?Â No. But it is quickly adapting in order to stay alive.
Amadeus Consulting is an open shop of custom software developers. We create a vast array of custom software applications that include everything from database systems to smart phone applications. We work on Macs, PCs, web-based applications, and pretty much everything in-between; including designing for every major browser, operating system, and hardware platform.
In other words, we are pretty unbiased in our approach to technology, and will use whatever technology will create the best solution for our clients. We’ve deployed many Flash-based applications, Silverlight projects, numerous iPhone apps, and created more websites and web applications than we can count.
Don’t misunderstand; we are very excited about the potential that HTML5 provides and the different opportunities coming available. However, it will not unseat the occasional need for rich Internet applications, Flash-like technologies, and other proprietary platforms. HTML5 and related technologies do create some exciting possibilities, and we look forward to increasing its use as it becomes standardized and better supported by web browsers.