What about HTML5?
So just what is wrong with using HTML5 as a replacement to Flash? A few things, says Forrester's Hammond. The main issues he sees with HTML5 video right now include:
- Limited support for digital rights management; it's coming, but right now it makes it difficult for companies like Netflix to protect media.
- Limited support for variable streaming rates -- if your connection weakens (goes from five bars to three, for instance), the server has problems adjusting to the bit rate you are getting, so you end up with frozen video downloads.
- Inconsistent codec support. Chrome supports VP8, and IE9 and Safari support H.264, which means developers have to encode for multiple formats.
Donovan Adams, a senior interactive developer who has worked at Syfy/NBCUniversal and Macys.com, agrees. "The biggest and most obvious thing is compatibility on iOS devices. HTML5 works on iOS and Flash doesn't," Adams notes. But HTML5 doesn't work across the same number of browsers as does Flash, he says.
Another issue Adams points to is that the Flash plugin -- one of the three major components of Flash -- "is just now getting much-needed performance enhancements," Adams continues. "I still believe that as people push the HTML5 envelope, similar issues will come up with performance regardless of Flash or no Flash."
Adams says he's been developing with Flash for close to 10 years. "It's changed considerably over the course of the years, and has been an important part of the Web experience." Adams says he see Flash as a tool for creative exploration, whereas HTML has traditionally been a tool for data and content delivery.
"Obviously there is overlap, but because of this basic concept -- along with Flash being in the private or closed domain -- Flash has been able to evolve as a platform much quicker," Adams says. "As long as Flash has support and Adobe continues to invest in the platform, I don't see HTML5 catching up to it anytime soon."
When asked about specific examples of using HTML as a Flash replacement, Adams says, "I've seen a number of well-done experiences in HTML5, but I find myself feeling like they would have come off slightly better using Flash. Certain things such as image quality and image rendering characteristics, as well as synchronization, just seem to feel better in Flash."
A growing need
There is no data readily available regarding how many companies have already created scaled-down mobile-friendly websites, but the number is increasing, analysts agree. They also agree that the amount of Web traffic from mobile devices is growing dramatically.
The situation requires that developers understand their users, how they are accessing web content and how that accessibility may change.
"It's hard to deny the influence of a very rapidly growing computing market segment [phones and tablets] and of the best-marketed -- and arguably the best-made -- products in that category," Slackers Radio's Crawford says. Apple's devices "are commonplace, easy to test on, and straightforward to cater to -- as a result, they get more attention from Web developers than other mobile devices."
So when does Crawford recommend using Flash, and when should it be avoided?
"Use Flash when you can have at least some assurance that the population is using a desktop browser," advises Crawford. "For the most part, using a desktop browser implies that your visitor will have Flash."
But don't limit your focus to just your site's home page, Crawford says. Use Flash when there are no other options, he suggests. Then, "there are things Flash is simply better at. And Flash still has a place for things where HTML5 technologies don't cover every browser" -- for example, when multimedia playback is required.
"I think the basic best practice from a business perspective is to be platform-agnostic," Adams chimes in. "But how you go about doing that depends on the project, creative needs and budget."
He explains further: "The creative and technical requirements would dictate the best approach." If there are extensive creativity demands, including the need for video, games or multimedia ads, for instance, "then Flash would be an ideal option, with a fallback design" for mobile.
"In many cases, the fallback design can get close to the Flash version, since you aren't dealing with [the same] browser-compatibility issues covered by the Flash version," Adams says.