back to article Flash versus HTML 5

“The mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short,” says Apple CEO Steve Jobs in his notorious Thoughts on Flash. “New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too).” Adding to the confusion, every non- …


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  1. petur

    missing the point

    Do you think that the annoying bulky flash ads will be replaced with content (of empty space) when everybody moves from flash to html5? Think again. They will just re-create them with html5, including the bulky graphics and sounds inside.

    So the point about html5 being better for mobile is moot...

  2. Andy Mac

    How will HTML 5 "win" exactly?

    I'm still confused as to why HTML 5 is being touted as a panacea for Flash just because it has a video tag. Flash was, and is, used for all sorts of things, especially websites that allegedly look cool but are difficult and frustrating to use.

    Unless, that is, we're still referring to HTML 5 as that gelatinous blob/amorphous mass of technologies that might include CSS 3 animations (we don't really know). Then I can see if having a fighting chance.

    On an anecdotal note, I wanted to book a table at a restaurant while on the move on Monday. Went to the website on my iPhone and I couldn't even extract a phone number on my flashless device.

    Flash is going to be around for a long time to come whether we like it or not.

  3. jamie 5

    Have you actually *used* flash on 'droid?

    "[Flash] is more than tolerable on devices running Android 2.2"

    No it isn't, it's terrible. I have a Galaxy Tab, an android device with pretty must the most up to date processor, big display and plenty of RAM.

    Navigating to any website that uses flash is a nightmare. The android browser won't even let me scroll until the page has loaded all its Flash content (sllloooowwwwlllyyyy), and then the whole thing is jerky and a pain to navigate. And, being Android, this slowness affects the whole phone, not just the browser, so unless I go into the Task Manager (I thought we'd gotten rid of those in the mobile world.) and kill the browser, I can't use my phone*. Oh joy.

    1. DrXym

      Actually it works fine

      Do you really think a page laden down with equivalent HTML5 would perform any better on a phone? The answer is no it wouldn't. If you hit a page with 2 or 3 canvases all with timers firing every 1/30th second and doing DOM stuff, your content would chug too.

      Anyway the best way to deal with flash on android is to configure it so the flash anim doesn't load until you tap on it. Then you can still run that Flash game, or that video site fine without having to worry about banner ads dragging down your performance.

    2. g dot assasin
      IT Angle

      You need to.....

      ....go into the browser settings and change the "Enable Plugins" option to "On-Demand"

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      You said you used this on a Galaxy tab in the first part of your post, then go on to say it slows your phone.

      I think you are probably lying about the whole thing. Go play with your ipad. :P

      1. jamie 5


        Note the * when I said "phone".

        The galaxy tab repeatedly claims to be a phone.

        And restarts when you take the SIM card out.

        Android laggard.

    4. Dave Fox

      @jamie 5

      The stock browser on the Galaxy Tab is dreadful - however, the browser from later ROMs (which can be found on XDA) are much better.

      Personally, I find Flash more than acceptable on the Galaxy Tab with the later browser. Having said that, I've set plug-ins to "On-Demand" anyway, so that I only view Flash content if I "click" on it - this gives me the best of both worlds - the ability to use Flash only as I when I actually want to!

    5. heyrick Silver badge

      Flash is horrible?

      Motorola Defy. Some Flash is tragic, like trying to play YouTube videos in the browser instead of the dedicated player. But I've just discovered that there are KFCs in France to rescue me from the monotony of McDo. It's a big wodge of Flash. Which worked. On my phone. The only thing that didn't was the store locator - I think that is Java or something? Android's browser doesn't have a "view source" option.

      Oh, and not having NoScript on the phone, I see quite a lot of Flash. Which is slow and annoying over EDGE... but works. Doesn't drag the phone to a crawl, and if the browser slows down, you don't need the task manager, you just need to close the window by tapping menu, then windows then tap the '-' next to the one to close. Don't "back" out of the browser as it seems to me that Android is incapable of actually quitting an application...

      Anyway. Flash. Some works, some is slow. Just like a PC.

  4. fishman

    Even if Flash dies

    Even if Flash dies, it will take at least a few years before it would be all but gone. So even if HTML5 is the way of the future, a phone that can handle flash will have an advantage over a typical life of 2-4 years.

  5. Jeremy Chappell


    Isn't security of Flash the elephant in the room here? Flash has a lousy reputation for security, something you completely fail to address, do we really want a big hole on the security model of our mobile devices?

    I'm not at all sure it's "better to have Flash"... You've failed to convince me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ Eh

      Chrome at least runs Flash in a sandbox, I would hope the Dalvik VM version of the Browser + Flash would too! I don't know for sure.

      Honestly though, the Flash VM is part of Mozilla's Tamarin, so obviously it's getting a good scrub here and there.

  6. spencer

    Small point about the battery life.... that the power draw by simply having the screen on in the first place (and having a wireless connection, GSM, etc) makes running flash fairly insignificant.

    If flash runs, then that's simply an extra + mark for the device. It's not a deal breaker though.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flash on Arm?

    "..shares the same ARM core as Tegra 2, so the question is: who has done the better optimisation? No doubt, the head-to-heads will come out later this year."

    I'm not sure that is relevant; Flash can use a OpenVG backend, so it would be sensible to use a GPU HW VG implementation to do the acceleration. This works for the usual flash stuff (I know, I've done exactly that - over a year ago as a demo on one of our companies mobile GPU's), you still need more work to accelerate the video as that goes via a different path, but again this is done in the GPU. In both cases, all the hard work isn't done by an Arm core, but by the GPU, with the host processor just throwing data at it.

    Not yet impressed by the Tegra though - still have power issues on that one. Better (faster, lower power, more features) chips on the way.

  8. whats the point of kenny lynch?


    i'm a long time mac user but jobs is wrong on this one - a bit like cd burners and blu-ray on macs - apple should have phased out flash slowly, not just dumped it.

    i've bought an advent vega tablet, it runs flash nicely and more importantly, it runs when i choose to run it in the browser - great, so i can choose to run flash or not.

    this makes the ipad look daft, and overpriced.

    apple could live to regret this decision. hopefully once jobs has gone, they will think again about flash and blu-ray......

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flash falls short of HTML 5?

    Anyone got an HTML5 based ticking stock chart yet? Please?

    1. DrXym

      Wouldn't be hard to do

      A ticker is relatively trivial to do.

      1. Create a canvas element

      2. set a timer

      3. when timer fires

      4. draw text / graphics into canvas offset to the left by some amount. Continue to draw text across the canvas until entire width is filled

      5. increment / reset offset

      6. repeat

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The theory's fine

        But has anyone done it?

        I'm guessing that Google would be the first to replace their current /finance charts if it was possible...

        Last time we looked into it it was too slow and very fiddly.

    2. Steven Knox

      I've done something similar

      with AJAX and CSS positioning. You don't even need a canvas element for that kind of thing -- unless you're looking to add dynamic graphics.

  10. Tom Chiverton 1


    "absence of Flash on a smartphone web browser can be annoying, so too are Flash-laden pages which load slowly, eat battery life with unnecessary multimedia, and may not look good or be usable on a small screen unless the developer has optimised the page for mobile".

    Or, alternatively:

    "using HTML5/CSS3 sites on a smartphone web browser can be annoying, so too are animiation-laden pages which load slowly, eat battery life with unnecessary multimedia, and may not look good or be usable on a small screen unless the developer has optimised the page for mobile".

    Stopped reading at that point, sorry- the point is mostly mute anyway because most smart phones and tablets ship with Flash 10 these days, it's only the Apple laggards who don't.

  11. DrXym

    HTML5 is no magic bullet

    I think some people believe that if we got rid of Flash that everything would be good with the world.

    Sadly this is not the case at all. If authoring tools were repurposed to spit out the HTML5 equivalent of a SWF, the content would likely run even worse than it did as a plugin. All the DOM+JS in a page runs in a single thread apart from worker threads which are not allowed to interact with the DOM at all. So if you had a couple of banner ads and some content they would all be in contention and running from the same thread. The whole experience would chug as timers fired and the page was constantly refreshed by DOM changes and additional GC occurred. Needless to say performance would also wildly vary from one browser to the next too.

    The best that could be hoped is that banner ads etc. would confine themselves to canvas elements where the browser stands the best chance of optimizing the refresh rate. Any overlayed content (equivalent to windowless Flash) would likely suffer very badly.

    The situation with video is even more complex, but I don't think the browser could do a better job than Flash here either. Video decoding is a slow operation and requires hardware acceleration to be optimal. In addition video content is YUV encoded and must be converted and rendered into an RGB colourspace, possibly sandwiched between other DOM elements. At best performance might match Flash and at worst (especially for WebM) there might not be any hardware acceleration at all for the forseeable future, at least in desktop browsers.

    So the while HTML5 would be a good way to weed out some of the most gratuitous used of Flash (e.g. webforms etc.), it's not some magic pill that solves the issues people level at Flash. In the case of animation / media heavy content it's likely to be a lot, lot worse.

  12. irneb

    HTML5, Flash, JS, Java, et al

    What a load of bollocks.

    Here's how I would rate any device:

    1) What's contained in the pages I want to browse (i.e. what's used mostly)?

    2) Does the device display this? If not, the device is in the bin.

    3) Does it show at a reasonable response? If not bin time again.

    4) If reasonable, then how is the battery life? Which is a sort of slide scale which tips to and from the bin.

    I don't care what is used, as long as the device can handle it adequately following the above points I'm happy.

    It's truly silly how some manufacturers want to force the issue. A standard across the net does not come to life because the client's suddenly support it. The "standard" arises because it provides for the needed functionality & looks which the developers are after. Or at least that's how it "should" work, the reality is it's more about what the dev knows and is comfortable with.

    This whole HTML5 thing sounds so much like the debacle which basically killed SVG ... a supposed "open" standard, but each program has its own custom bits and pieces which are (at best) not interchangeable. A committee playing silly-buggers about how text should be handled in SVG killed that "standard's" usability. Just draw some stretched text in InkScape and open it in FireFox - you'll see what I'm on about! So they want to get this working for HTML5? Aaagggg pleeeeezzze! It's dead before they even considered it.

    Even in other so-called "open" standards similar problems are prevalent. E.g. the ODF standard kills any possibility of using an Engineering format in a spreadsheet. There's no way of extending the ODF standard without breaking interoperability, which means a "fix" would take more than just the aeon or so for the committee to pull their fingers out.

    As an anecdote: We asked a web developer company to create our web site for us. We had some very specific designs in mind. They suggested using Flash as "it would be the only form factor to support the design". ... but the Flash would have to be designed for the smallest res on which it would be viewed. Most of our clients have at least high-end screens, so seeing the 1024x768 flash on a 1920x1080 looks cr@p. Stupidity on the dev's part though, since the flash can resize ... but I since did a test using normal HTML & JS, using just open source libraries of JS code I could accomplish the same exact page as the Flash was doing ...

    Only, the files were smaller, loaded quicker, were easier to edit in the future, worked much better with the database through PHP, ran smoother on most of the low-end PC's we tested it on (high ends didn't feature a measurable difference), was actually working on all major web clients (without artefacts), took one dev (me) less time to develop than an entire company doing the flash. So yes! Flash is better! Ha Ha Ha Ha!

    AFAIKT, the main reason behind them not going the HTML+JS route was that they didn't like *programming*. The WYSIAWYG editor is the only "IDE" they were interested in, so couldn't / wouldn't use a text editor to code the HTML.

    So to "introduce" a new standard? Make a comparative / better editing environment first. Then make sure the standard can handle what is being created on the web. Then make sure it does so with the minimum of performance loss. Then create some close as dammit import filters from the current "standards". Then get it optimized for the client apps. Then get the hardware optimized to suit.

    If it's not done in that order, you won't find anyone using it. Or at least not anyone in the market place. So your "standard" is heading to a dead-end, without even the other usual killer factors of committees being a synonym for doing nothing and talking each other to death.

    And what does Jobs do? He starts at the end: removes hardware and / or software support for the prevailing standard in favour of (in his opinion) the "new" standard. It was doomed to failure as soon as he had that idea, long before he uttered his typical Jobsisim.

  13. thecresta
    Jobs Horns

    Frequent Flasher

    Flash works fine on my Galaxy S. Providing you turn it off.

    I would be useful to only enable certain elements on a page, for example videos or interactive elements. But hey, where would the fun be in that?

  14. semprance


    "so too are Flash-laden pages which load slowly, eat battery life with unnecessary multimedia"

    1. As people said above, HTML5 will result in similar problems.

    2. I'm yet to encounter a device that just loads flash when a webpage is opened. In all cases, I've been required to activate flash on the page by tapping one of the elements.

    The fact is that Jobs blew on about this a long time ago, and no-one is buying the argument. His criticisms, while mostly correct, distract from the point that Flash in browsers is an OPTION on nearly all mobile platforms except his.

    Also, I've noticed many people saying that mobile flash is sluggish based on their experiences with Android. I use a Palm Pre 2 and flash runs seamlessly within the built-in webkit browser. Seriously, I also have an Android tablet and my Pre 2 put's it to shame, even with it's less powerful specs. So maybe these problems are due to Android or it's particular Flash implementation, rather than mobile flash as a whole.

  15. Thomas Wolf

    I want to see information - whatever format it's presented in

    If I'm on the go and need to check a train schedule or pay a bill I had forgotten to pay whilst at home or simply need to look up something on a web site I just saw on TV or a magazine, I *WANT TO SEE THE INFORMATION*. Seeing a little box that says 'Flash is not installed" or "Java is not installed" is not acceptable in those situations!

    Steve Jobs has done an excellent job exploiting the fact that most people are ignorant with respect what technologies are used on the Web pages they visit. When Steve Jobs tells them that his iPhone and iPad provide the "best web experience" or that Flash isn't used on much of the web, they BELIEVE.

    I am a huge fan of the iPhone. I have one, my wife has one. We liked the intuitive interface so much, we bought an iPad too. But the one thing that galls me to no end is the lack of Flash support on these devices. When our contract is up this June, my wife's iPhone will be upgraded to an iPhone 5 - and mine to whatever the latest/greatest Android phone is at that time. If my experience is a positive one, the next upgrade cycle will move my wife to Android as well.

    Don't know what we'll do with the iPad - probably keep it: it's a great little media streaming device: my wife's on it constantly watching Chinese-language movies on YouTube :-)

  16. R Cox

    History...repeats itself

    "In this context, developing for the mobile web, as opposed to building apps for proprietary platforms, will be the way forward. But there will still be trade-offs."

    I recall back when we were many commercial firms began writing HTML for there was great debate over whether we should use HTML or the extensions provided by Flash and MS. With pre-css HTML, which was just a markup language that provided context for blocks, there was no guarantee to how the blocks would render. This was unacceptable for many people. Therefore we ended up with a significant portion of the web that built for a single proprietary platform , MS Office, or running on second proprietary platform, Macromedia Flash. The way forward for a long time was not to develop for the web in general.

    The decision not to use HTML was sometimes very well justified, but other times is was not so much. Some people thought they needed to design for 640X480 screen size. Some people want to make sure the branding was always in the exact same spot. The best justification for flash was to insure viewers of the web page had to see the advertising.

    Adobe Flash and things like it are going to be used on the mobile web specific because they are proprietary. They will allows a level of control, differentiation, and confort in the same way that IE did back in the day. Flash is widely used for delivering video content, and is well suited to do so. It is unclear that other tech can do the same, but I suspect it does. IMHO the primary reason Flash is so critical to the mobile web is that it provides the mechanism to deliver advertisement. Since Apple delivers it's own ads, Flash is irrelevant. When Flash in no longer the primary way to deliver ads, Adobe is much less relevant. Therefore like MS was with IE, Adobe is in a life and death struggle to keep Flash relevant long enough to adjust.

  17. Zolko Silver badge
    Jobs Horns


    Flash works rather well on my Dell Streak with official (Dell) Froyo, they only load when I demand them (or rather: when the kids demand them for their Flash games). Apart from that, I mainly use Opera Mini anyway. Should be even better with custom ROMs, though.

    But banning Flash alltogether .... really stupid idea. Jobs was quite happy when Adobe helped Apple back in the dark days with Photoshop.

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