A lot of our clients and prospects struggle with the current HTML5 versus Flash discussion. What should I choose when I initiate a new online project? Is a mobile strategy the best solution or should I still focus on a more regular online strategy? Or maybe both? In this post, I will give you some insights and guidelines for a balanced and wise decision.
A brief history
In 2010 the late Steve Jobs was already having huge success with the iPhone and the newly launched iPad. In his attempt to free the World from memory demanding applications (and also to protect Apple’s own app store), he banished Flash from Apple’s mobile devices. That was the starting point for a partly just and a partly unfair battle against Flash. In the media Flash was instantly deemed dead, although the promoted new standard HTML5 was not a full substitute for Flash and was still not even close to being ready for full usage. Nevertheless a lot of companies and creative agencies started adopting HTML5 and focused on developing new projects and websites in this newly developed standard. The popularity grew, mainly ignited by Apple’s popularity and the adoption of this standard by search engines and social networks. At the end of 2011, 34 of top 100 most popular web sites are using HTML5 instead of older versions of HTML.
Current state of affairs
The popularity of HTML5 is still rising, as is the number of mobile and tablet users. At this moment the US has about 13 Million tablets users, but according to eMarketeer this number will most likely be reaching 90 million in 2014, accounting for more than 35% of the total internet users. In 2011 88% of the tablet users were Apple iPad owners. Although there are less studies in Europe, it can be asuumed that there’s a similar trend towards rapid growth here.
On the other hand, we are not living in the future but in 2012. HTML5 is due to be recommended by W3C for release in 2014, this means that currently HTML5 is still not generally adopted or bug-free. At the end of 2011, BT concluded that the tablet use in Europe (6%) is still very moderate in comparison to China (35%) and India (16%). In other words, both Europe and the US still have a huge majority of Desktop or Laptop users. Nearly all these users have Flash installed on their machine.
It’s safe to say that the tablet phenomenon is not a hype anymore, it’s definitely a trend. This cannot be ignored. Moreover there’s a bright future for HTML5 and other more open standards. How this will develop, is however unclear at this moment. In a way Flash is of the past, as Steve Jobs already indicated in his “Thoughts on Flash” essay, so it’s most likely to evolve into something different in the future. To say Flash is dead is however blunt and inaccurate, that simply doesn’t reflect the current situation, at least not in Western countries. So the short answer to the starting question is: Is Flash dead: No, at least not yet. HTML5 it’s killer: Again no, it seems to become a slow death, so there’s no victim yet! However it might as well turn out to be one of its assassins in future.
What to do?
Off course you’re still puzzled on what to do, when starting your new online project. As promised I will give you a couple of guidelines and tips.
1. Know your clients and user Group
Every self-respecting company has thorough web analysis software in place. Check the technical reports to see how many users are viewing your site with a mobile device. Secondly, how many are using a tablet device? To speak from our own experience: we have a fairly European visitor group mainly active in marketing and commercial disciplines. We see a raise in mobile users to currently almost 5% of the total vistors, 2% of which use an iPad or other tablets. At some of our clients the tablet user group is close to zero, while others already have nearly 10% of the total users on an iPad. Depending on your web site’s statics, your choice can be highly influenced.
2. Mobile users have different needs
Depending on the sector, it’s safe to say that 80-95% of your users are still viewing your website with a desktop or laptop computer. The rest of the users are mobile. However mobile is not a general term, make a definite distinction between smart phone users and tablet users. The latter group being more comparable with your regular users, except for some new cool opportunities such as touch screen, but also some technical limitations (especially for iOS devices). The smart phone users have different needs altogether, not only as mentioned for the tablet users, but mainly in terms of display size and resolution. Secondly a smart phone user is in most caes looking for other information than other users. A custom app for the smart phone can sometimes be a good alternative to a regular mobile site.
Building a one-size-fits-all site or online project for all platforms is not a wise strategy. Investigate the needs according to the platform and medium.
3. General web site versus a specific web site part or online project
Using Flash as main engine of your complete website, is simply a bad choice when you start developing today. We still have a full interactive Flash site (launched in 2009), but we are currently rebuilding to HTML5. Main reasons for that: Search Engine Optimization. Flash is not good at that at all. Furthermore as said in the first tip: our user group is using tablets more and more.
Does this mean that you cannot develop anything with Flash, anymore? No, not at all: Special online projects, specific parts of your main web site or special online experiences such as games, online contests, product configurators, 3D interaction or interactive videos are simply impossible to realize yet without Flash. Furthermore Flash will most likely achieve much more user experience and interaction compared to the HTML5 alternative. Again: check your clients and user group when making a decision and be critical when choosing for Flash, but don’t expel Flash altogether in advance.
4. Time span
An important question is also how long your online project should last, in other words what’s the time span of your whole project. Typically a corporate website should last at least more than a year, while a campaign driven site or project often only last a couple of months. The use of technique still depends on your user group, however you don’t need to anticipate on future changes within this user group, when your project should only last for three months.
5. Hybrid strategy
Depending on budget space, a strategy adopted more and more is a so called hybrid strategy. This is mainly applicable for some special projects as mentioned above. In this strategy you will focus on the largest target group of (in most cases) desktop or laptop users and build a maximum experience for them. Secondly you build a stripped down version optimized for the smaller user group of tablet users. If your tablet/HTML5 user group is at a considerable rate and rising, I would suggest to focus mainly on HTML5 and maximize the user experience for the other users. For some projects a one-size-fits-all approach for tablets, desktops and laptops can work. All depends on the specific project and the requirements. The Tesla example below is a very good example of a product configurator build for both tablet and desktop users.
The main reason for this article was to give a nuancing view on current reality and my main advice is to look closely at your user group before making an important decision. Don’t be influenced too much by the day-to-day fads and hypes. I hope this helps you further when choosing your future online strategy and gives you a bit more perspective for internal discussions and selection processes. A more technical summary of the comparison between HTML5 and Flash can be found here on Wikipedia. On this blog there are some cool examples of both HTML5 and Flash implementation for your inspiration:
If you have any questions or comments on this blog post, please state them here or e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org