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How Apple Helped HTML5 Dethrone Flash, and Why It May Come Back To Haunt Them.

August 9, 2013 - Apple, iOS, Web - , , ,

When Adobe launched Adobe Edge last year, they envisioned a new set of tools that would allow developers to create animated web content using HTML5, CSS, and Java Script, bypassing Flash completely. At that time, you had to wonder about the future of Flash, and even more, what the language of web animation will look like in the coming years.

When the iPhone first launched with a Flash-incompatible OS (for what was said to be security reasons), it was thought that this was a significant omission, one that would necessarily be remedied in later versions. After all, Flash was in the forefront for years; programmers had been adamant that you could not create an engaging web animation without it.

And for a while, iOS seemed to be lacking. You would be dropped into mobile websites every day that failed to deliver a complete experience, with a small gray box where your Flash plug-in should be. But as iOS has become the default starting point for all mobile development, two things happened.

First, designing for the mobile environment required greater simplicity. Designers realized that maybe on this very small screen, you didn’t actually need a bunch of animation to create an impact. Function became more important than form and the idea of the mobile device as a legitimate commerce tool took hold.

Second, non-Flash solutions started cropping up. A lot of them felt rough, and were very limited in terms of consistent performance across platforms. But when Steve Jobs announced that iOS would never support Flash, he detailed a long list of reasons why they would instead implement technologies built around HTML5. Suddenly, a star was born.

Now, here’s where the story gets interesting: One of the more intriguing aspects of HTML5-based apps is that they potentially allow you to bypass the Apple App Store. The Financial Times did just this last year, launching a new HTML5 version of the Financial Times, available on their own site. It’s possible they could have produced a better app using Apple’s native code, but would it have been 30% better (offsetting Apple’s cut of subscription sales in store)? Probably not.

We don’t believe that HTML5 spells the imminent doom of the App Store or its Android counterpart. The stores are what they are because users trust that an app they find their will work, and work well, in the native environment. Last May, Rovio released an HTML5-driven version of Angry Birds, underwritten by Google as a way of testing what could be done in a browser environment. And the game looks and works great. What if Angry Birds was not already a massive success? Would it have seen anything like the impact it has without the geometric sales expansion that comes from being a breakout hit on the App Store?

So this is probably a battle that Apple will win. They have a viable workaround for their Flash intransigence and they hold onto the dominant place their store hold sin the market.

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