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Flash or HTML5? Tips for Choosing the Right Development Technology

Have you heard the latest tech buzzword? Everyone’s talking about HTML5, the next major revision of HTML (HyperText Markup Language—or the way that we “write” the web), which is prompting our clients to ask us what it means to their web and mobile web presence. Is Flash dead? Is HTML5 the new standard? Should we rebuild our website?

The reality is that HTML and Flash have always co-existed, and we believe that they still can—as long as we recognize that there are different solutions for each project and intended audience. HTML/HTML5 is, and will continue to be, THE language platform for web development. Flash emerged as an alternative for sites looking to deliver a more animated site experience.

Apple is bringing attention to the features and benefits of HTML5 because it has opted to not support Flash on its mobile devices. Apple’s iPad is being adopted so rapidly, that eMarketer speculates Apple will sell an additional estimated 19.4 million iPads in 2011, and that developers have to start paying attention to alternate technologies that can deliver similar experiences on mobile devices that don’t support Flash.

Where to Go from Here

Which technology you use—and in which combinations—depends on your business and audience.

At this time, we’re not recommending you build your website with exclusivity to HTML5 or Flash. In fact, for most projects, we recommend avoiding both because HTML5 is still in its infancy and not all devices support Flash. However, many Flash-like features and functionality—those of which you see on the web today and that happen to be done in HTML5—can be accomplished today using existing HTML/CSS/JavaScript.

Video is the one place for exception. If you detect that your target user’s browser supports the HTML5 video tag, then you can show the video using the new HTML5 video tag. If not, then the best viewing option is in Flash. If the user does not support either, you would provide the user with a link to a video file so they can download it and play it on their computer. This approach allows us to have video content work on devices with and without Flash support while reaching the widest possible audience.

Flash and HTML5 Share the Web Space

Right now Adobe and Apple have different opinions on how to use Flash and HTML5, but the reality is that it’s too early to predict where Flash will end up. What it boils down to is how to give users the best possible web experience on the widest range of devices. Different applications, markets and consumers will dictate the winning method on how to deliver content.

In the meantime, we continue to monitor the progression, do diligent research and use the technologies that make the most sense for each client.

Although Flash isn’t dead (and it may never be), we would not recommend that clients with far-reaching business objectives looking to reach users on mobile devices develop a full Flash site, because Flash is better suited on a small as-needed basis. In most situations, Flash is used to enhance the experience if the device supports it.

The good news is that all of this progression will provide users with even richer, more dynamic web experiences.

When it comes to HTML5 and Flash, consider these four things:

1. Know the Limitations

While HTML5 is gaining momentum, it’s not slated to be in final form until around 2014. However, many parts are already and will continue to be implemented. If you have a Flash ad or site, remember that Apple iPhone and iPad products don’t support Flash.

2. Know the Strengths

Inherently, HTML5 will provide the best mobile experience possible for the sake of managing and presenting content. Flash would be more suitable for a touch-screen kiosk or self-contained animated presentation.

3. Consider the Options

There are many JavaScript frameworks available today that allow us to create many of the effects and animation in HTML that we have traditionally only seen in Flash.

4. Evaluate

Each client, project and audience has different needs and desired results. If your targeted audience is tech-savvy iPad or mobile device users, then HTML5 is probably a better option.