Why Flash and HTML5 need each other

Why Flash and HTML5 need each other

Summary: It's been almost two years since pundits pronounced that Flash was dead but the fragmented browser and device market signals a future for both technologies in web development.


While there are people who would like to see Flash banished from browsers in favour of HTML5, Flash is not ready to be replaced.

Internet gambling company bet365 has found there is no one suite of technologies that can reliably serve rich web content to the multitude of computers and mobile devices used online today.

Rather than HTML5 and its associated web technologies being a silver bullet — capable of underpinning sites and apps for machines of different sizes, running different browsers and supporting different web software — the company has found it is just one of several technologies needed to support the zoo of internet-connected devices.

bet365 offers a website, as well as mobile apps for iOS and Android built by creating a native code wrapper around its website. The site dynamically adjusts its layout and underlying technologies based on the capabilities of the connecting device. The advantage of building mobile apps using a wrapper around the site is that it requires less coding than building apps for each platform in native code.

A key reason that bet365 doesn't want to completely abandon Flash in favour of HTML5 to run animations, video and audio is a lack of desktop support. Internet Explorer 8 and earlier are still used by just under one third of desktop web users, but these browsers don't support the HTML5 <audio> or <video> tags.

"I think it's fair to say that the saturation of Flash on the desktop is still higher than the number of people who can receive HTML5 globally. We still have customers on IE6," said Alan Reed, head of the systems team at bet365.

Serving the site to mobile is different story. While about half of bet365 customers access its services using a mobile device, many such devices don't support Flash; indeed, Adobe has stopped Flash development on mobile. To better serve the mobile market, bet365 has begun offering video and audio in HTML5 <video> and <audio> tags, removing the need for a Flash plug-in. It is also using the JavaScript inside the HTML5 <canvas> tag to run graphical animations of what's happening in sports games.

"Mobile has given us a different set of challenges, where you're looking at pretty much a no-Flash world on mobile and tablet — whereas we've been using Flash as our standard bearer and way of delivering that richness on the desktop," Reed said.

Given the widely varying capabilities of browsers and desktop and mobile devices connecting to the web today, Reed said it was becoming increasingly complicated to serve their varying needs.

"It's a huge challenge because it seems to be every day somebody, somewhere brings out a new device and we're trying to get global coverage," he said.

bet365 uses client-side software to detect the capabilities of the browser and the device connecting to its services. Specifically, it uses the Modernizr JavaScript library as a framework and suite of standard tests to detect standard browser features, but also builds on top of this framework custom feature-detection tests that decide whether to enable higher-level features — such as its Match Live graphical animations or advanced scrolling. Server side detection of multimedia stream formats supported by devices is also carried out, using .Net functions to analyse strings in the User-Agent header.

"We'll look to detect by device, by browser, by screen size, and by geography as well, as sometimes in a different territory we will serve a different site," Reed said.

And supporting mobile and non-PC devices doesn't just mean Android and iOS; bet365 tries to scale back its website to a very simple configuration so punters can still place a bet on a "low-end Nokia phone" or a games console web browser.

"We had to be very careful of what we drop and what we can't have and the design has to cater for that," Reed said. "We're very concerned to tailor the content to what the user can see. If you can't support something in your browser, you won't see it. It's about graceful degradation of service."

When will Flash go bye-bye?

There are also areas where the HTML5 spec still has some way to go to catch up with Flash's capabilties, Reed said, for instance when animating vector graphics using JavaScript and a HTML5 <canvas> tag rather than Flash.

"Flash does vectors very well. HTML5 still has some way to go. You'll get some visual degradation [using HTML5] and also you have to write a lot of code. It takes a lot of JavaScript to do the same thing," Reed said.

Eventually, Reed thinks a tipping point will be reached where HTML5 support vastly outweighs Flash, but doesn't see Flash support going away for some time.

"Once our customers say 'We've more devices that can do one than the other' that will probably be the day but I don't know when that day is," he said.

Topics: Mobility, Enterprise Software, Web development


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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  • really?

    instead of spending the time and money catering to ignorant customers... why not educate the customers on what an update is and get them to update... its not like it'll cost them anything to get to IE9+, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.
    • VERY difficult!!

      when a VERY large % of customers want their fav website to work on mobile, etc, and it happens to be one that the dev has given up on 10 years ago... (retired, company he worked for went bust, no money, so no ability to maintain advanced tools needed for new stuff, not smart enough for new stuff, only just got by with old windows tools...)

      And the above is actually quite rare.. a lot of people have NO CLUE beyond saying "its an internet" and "where is my google?" (they are talking about the browse that came with their machine will not load it, or they have not even tried, not smart enough to realise it is a just a website!!
  • Only worm ridden filth believe that HTML5 isn't garbage

    Just the latest hodgepodge of open source crap thrown together by the industry's finest brain dead zombies.
  • HTML5 is a waste of time.

    Most of the best frameworks made for Javascript were done by Flash devs. A lot of Flash libraries are being ported to JS (like Starling, GreenSock AP, etc.).

    But HTML5 by itself is not capable to match Flash. WebGL does (in the 3D department), but WebGL is not HTML5 and NEVER WILL BE IMPLEMENTED ON IOS FOR BROWSER APPS (sorry, I just wanted to be clear about that).

    So, after 3 years of "FLASH IS DED HTML5 IS READY" Flash is NOT dead and HTML5 is NOT ready. Even in advertising HTML5 is not ready, this page has 4 SWFs running ads. And most of the time you have SWFs running in the background doing a lot of tasks (like updating comments... see Facebook or TechCrunch as examples).

    Just imagine all those frameworks that stopped their development to join the HTML5 hype wagon, and barely can match what is done with Flash and just when they use WebGL... man, what a waste of talent. Actionscript 4 was going to be awesome... but hey! we have 2013 HTML5 games that could have been done with Flash (Actionscript 1) 14 years ago, thats progress, right? right?
    Rolf Ruiz
    • Advertising

      > Even in advertising HTML5 is not ready, this page has 4 SWFs running ads.

      Hilarious, you're absolutely right - two ads from Microsoft and one from Google all using Flash!

      • you have missed the point..

        thanks to all the buyouts by adobe, we a have a lot of DIFFERENT stuff, stupidly all called 'flash'.. If they had called them different names it would have stopped the confusion..

        The 'flash' most are talking about is the video flash, used also for rich content that if badly programmed can be the cuse of most things people are angry about...

        SWF by itself cannot do much, most external players dont even support it!!

        while are trying to login to many sites, just wonder how it handles your mistakes, and generally give a 'smart' input... that will usually be swf or similar...
    • HTML5 is politic

      Did a quick research, from 7 website i saw in thefwa.com, 5 of them has different mobile site. their desktop site is more interactive, and their mobile site is simple and static.

      Why just not use flash that is more powerful and easier to create, and create html mobile site.

      Bring back website experience to its glory place.
  • JavaScript ain't no ActionScript

    It's also worth mentioning that JavaScript ain't no ActionScript. It doesn't have strong typing, doesn't have classes or modules and doesn't have interfaces. In fact, apart from "strict mode" (which isn't supported in all browsers anyway), JavaScript is pretty much the same as it was last century.

    This is fine for little bits of code in web pages, but not fine for enterprise web-apps.

    Until ECMAScript Harmony is finalised and widely implemented, Flash (and Flex!) is, IMHO, the best platform for creating serious applications delivered through a browser.
  • Good Advert for Online Betting?

    "We still have customers on IE6"

    Presumably, they're the ones who don't make money by online betting; so are more valuable to the betting companies?

    Perhaps these companies' glossy advertising should reveal how many regular users can still only afford obsolete tech.?
  • In Some Aspects Flash is Dead, in others it's Alive

    Running a Web Development Agency for last 10 years; I can testify to the fact that a core portion of our business up to 2008/9 was based on flash. Apple changed all that whether we liked it or not.

    For anything up to complex dynamic web applications HTML5 is taking over and there is no going back. Flash is still good for some of the more development oriented web apps but that's an argument based on developer experience as well.

    We're having no problems with clean, smooth animations as well crisp vector SVG supported images in HTML5 and creating same work we used to do in Flash ; Using an Web based App called EWC Presenter. If your a designer/creative person this app will help you overcome the "Flash is Dead" problem.
  • Sorry... Flash won't be around that long.

    IE8? XPs end of life is in five months.

    Mobile numbers are far exceeding new PC sales and new PCs can run HTML5. Apple and Android have also shown that people can work without Flash... they are today. YouTube already has HTML5 for video. Almost all sites which use Flash are running ads... which almost no one wants or cares if they don't see them. Web developers have moved heavily to server side scripting (ASPX, PHP, etc.). And many folks are now deploying mobile apps (iOS and Andriod). This leave little room for Flash. If a mobile user can do without it... so can any desktop user.
  • Good point of view, but there is another!

    I would recommend to read the other point of view: http://basicuse.net/articles/pl/textile/html_css/the_html5_hype_is_flash_really_dead