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Flash versus HTML 5

The mobile perspective

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“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-Apple vendor has jumped on Flash as a key selling point, one thing that iOS looks unlikely ever to support, and the majority of the smartphones and tablets on show at CES earlier this year boast Flash support.

RIM has gone further with its Tablet OS on the forthcoming BlackBerry PlayBook, which uses the Flash-based Adobe AIR for part of its user interface and as a development platform for apps.

Despite this, Jobs is not all wrong. While the 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.

HTML in the browser and native code for applications is ideal. HTML 5 is not done yet, but most mobile browsers are based on WebKit or Opera, both of which support a significant proportion of the emerging standard.

Jobs is partly wrong though, and the technology has moved on since his April 2010 piece. Jobs said he had never seen Flash performing well on a mobile device. In June 2010 Adobe released the first full Flash player for mobile, version 10.1, and while it is still relatively resource-hungry it is more than tolerable on devices running Android 2.2, for example.

Move on to the new generation of devices, and it gets better still. Some are already using NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 package, which is fully hardware-accelerated for Flash. “We have worked directly with the Flash Player source code, to have a fully GPU-accelerated code path for the Flash player,” said Barthold Lichtenbelt, NVIDIA Director of Tegra Graphics. This is not just for video, but deep in the hardware. Flash will run just fine.

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Next page: Trade-offs

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