As news broke last year that Adobe was dropping support for Flash as a video streaming option, it was the final nail in the coffin for a well used streaming tool that has always been ravenous in devouring processor power and memory. Steve Jobs referred to Flash as being from a bygone era of “PCs and Mice.” He also said that Apple had learned from a Painful experience that third party applications like Flash were bad for the mobile experience, has severe security issues, and were simply hogs on battery life and processor power. Jobs had concluded that HTML5 was the future of the mobile video experience and Apple would do everthing they could to support it.
But two years after Jobs published his seminal thoughts on Flash, has HTML5 advanced to the point where it can truly take over for streaming video applications? In a new State of HTML5 report, engineers at LongTail video have performed exhaustive tests between Flash and HTML5 video to see if the newcomer is ready to replace the old guard. Their results are pretty telling.
According to the LongTail report, about 2/3s of the streaming market is now supporting HTML5. That’s certainly good news. But the report goes on to say that the largest segment of the internet market – 28% – still uses Internet Explorer (vs. 6-8) and as such, Flash is still needed for those users and will be need to be supported for several years. Since they do not support HTML5, Flash is critical for video playback. Other browsers, like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have made the transition and support HTML5 video.
The real driving force behind HTML5 development is the mobile world, where lower power iOS and Android devices are able to stream video using the new spec. And while Android still supports Flash, Google recently announced that future versions of the OS will not have the Flash plugin anymore. And as previously stated, even Adobe has seen the handwriting on the wall, announcing late last year that it would phasing out Flash. That leaves the field wide open for HTML5 to assert itself. But there’s a roadblock … format fragmentation.
There are so many formats, and wrappers, that are both proprietary and open source that HTML5 is working overtime to be all things to all people. The challenge is that browsers running HTML5 seem to be split between MP4 and a format called WebM. Mobile devices, by contrast, support MP4 exclusively. Then there’s the case of tagging attributes in video playback. Most tags – like height, width, preload, loop, and autoplay are supported in most browsers, but are limited on mobile platforms. Then there’s full screen playback, which the the report says is largely in it’s infancy in HTML5 development, with most platforms either supporting limited full-screen playback or not at all. And Accessibility issues are barely on HTML5s radar, with only Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera supporting keyboard access only. And only a few have committed to closed captioning for playback.
But make no mistake, the day is coming that HTML5 will take over. With both Apple and Google acting as the driving forces behind it’s development (seems like it’s the only thing they agree on these days), HTML5 is the future of video distribution on the Internet. It’s just going to take time before it’s ready to fill the vacuum left by Flash’s imminent departure.