HTML5 on the iPad

In last month’s article “How Tablets Could Influence Online Marketing“, the issue of enabling Flash on mobile devices was raised. On January 27th, Apple revealed the much anticipated tablet we now know as the iPad. One disappointment (though expected) was that, like the iPhone, it would not play Flash.

So what’s the big deal? Why do users want Flash on mobile devices and why won’t the providers allow it? For the users, it means having access to sites like Hulu. In Apple’s case it’s business. In order to make large media files, such as video, small enough for reasonable download time, a codec (short for coder/decoder) needs to be used to compress the file. On these mobile devices, Apple only wants you to use theirs.

Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe each developed their own codecs that we recognize in their container format as .avi (Audio Video Interleave), .mov (QuickTime), and .swf or .flv (Flash video). Flash became the preferred codec with large video sites like YouTube using it for their video compression and embedding. It was a good solution during a time when QuickTime only played on Macs and Windows Media on PCs. Apple was persistent and responded by coming up with their own digital video software, Final Cut Pro, which provided their codec H.264 for video compression. Before releasing the iPhone, they also approached YouTube and had them convert their videos to the H.264 codec so they would play on the iPhone’s OS.

Why so persistent? Jobs explained at an employee meeting following the iPad release that “Apple does not support Flash because it is so buggy. Whenever a Mac crashes more often than not it’s because of Flash. No one will be using Flash. The world is moving to HTML5.” Maybe not the world, but Google did with their Google Voice app, which was rejected by the iTune’s app store only late last year. Google fired back by using HTML5 that, conveniently, Apple’s Safari browser has adopted.

What HTML5 (the next revision of HTML) could do for Flash is exactly what it did for Google Voice. It is going to make an otherwise inaccessible media format accessible via the <embed> and <video> tag in browsers. So far, the language has been in development for 5 years and hasn’t been approved by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). According to the W3C timetable, it is estimated that HTML5 will reach W3C Recommendation by late 2010, though its editors (one from Google and the other from Apple) are expecting it will be later in 2012. Until the language is recommended, browsers adopt it, and designers and developers educate themselves on how to work in HTML5, users will continue to complain and business will be lost.

In an interview conducted by Charlie Rose, TechCrunch blogger Michael Arrington shared his thoughts on the strengths of the iPad. He was then asked what he didn’t like about it. Immediately, he responded “I don’t like the fact that it doesn’t allow Flash in a browser…I think that’s a real problem”. It is a problem, but only as long as it takes for websites to adapt. The device is not meant to download plug-ins so it will not play any media that isn’t prepared with its own technology (i.e. H.264). It will, however, allow you to view embedded media. So, instead of relying on users to download the latest Flash plug-in or hoping they’ll choose to visit your Flash site on a desktop or laptop, consider using HTML 5 to embed the media.

More reading/viewing:
Charlie Rose interview on the iPad
The iAgency — How the iPad Will Change the Advertising Business

The Future of Web Content — HTML 5, Flash, and Mobile Apps

Apple Shows Off Safari 4’s Pioneering HTML 5 Support