The battle between Adobe Flash and HTML5 is a subject that looks like it will be receiving a lot of attention in 2010. That has a lot to do with the iPad, which, like the iPhone, isn't expected to support Flash.

Some believe HTML5 could kill off Flash (and for that matter Silverlight), others don't. Of course, the full HTML5 spec probably won't be finished for another decade, but the debate over HTML5 and its impact on Flash is heating up because subsets of it are available and being adopted.

Earlier this year, YouTube introduced an "experimental" HTML5 video player. And just yesterday, an article in The Register detailed how Virgin America, Richard Branson's low-cost U.S. airline, has ditched Flash on its new website, which launched on Monday.

The rationale behind the switch: iPhone users who can't view Flash content. According to Virgin America's CIO Ravi Simhambhatla, "I don't want to cater to one hardware or one software platform one way to another, and Flash eliminates iPhone users. This year is going to be the year of the mobile [for Virgin]." Currently, Virgin America's new website uses HTML and JavaScript, but in the future, the airline plans to adopt HTML5.

What to make of this? It's obviously yet another sign that the battle between HTML5 and Flash has already begun. But it remains to be seen just how big that battle will become. In the case of Virgin America, the decision to ditch Flash had a lot to do with just how little the airline was using Flash's capabilities. Simhambhatla noted that "we weren't using any Flash features except transition from one ad to another". In other words, Virgin America wasn't doing anything with Flash that couldn't have been done with the technologies it's now using on its new website.

Given this, I don't think it makes sense to read too much into Virgin America's decision to drop Flash. After all, it's clear that the airline's investment in Flash was about as minimal as it gets. But the decision does highlight the fact that HTML5 will force companies to rethink how they're using Flash and whether their use of Flash is really necessary. In some cases, that might not be such a bad thing.

What's most interesting to me is Virgin's apparent belief that an iPhone-friendly website is so important. Obviously, Virgin America could have avoided the Flash issue altogether by focusing its efforts on a native iPhone app. Instead, however, Virgin America seems to be banking on the notion that a good number of iPhone users will increasingly turn to the mobile web, and not the App Store. If there's a real story here, that, not HTML5, might just be it.

Photo credit: justinsomnia via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 3 March, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at EconsultancyStaff

We're just working on a new version of the homepage for this site which will include video content. And we're doing it all in HTML 5 and avoiding Flash.

As you say, or perhaps imply, in your article above (or Virgin America do) I can't see any reason to use a plugin like Flash or Silverlight *unless you have to*. So for anything that can be done through a web standard natively within the browser, why would you want to use anything else? The only reason to use plugins, in my view, is where what you want to do can only be done that way and you have just reason to be sure this is necessary. 

over 8 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

There's an interesting hit on the reliability and robustness of websites (read increasing lost sales) as we all layer on these new technologies. Leaving out Flash and Silverlight, as you're doing Ashley, simplifies things.

It's harder to have a fully testable and fully monitorable website with those. But even without them, the rapidly increasing use of javascript and AJAX means that many coders are losing a little control over the quality of their work.

We're already seeing that extra AJAX often comes at the cost of extra lost sales - I wonder if anyone else has experienced that?

The second downside is that it renders much of existing (non dynamic) 24/7 web monitoring systems useless - I mean monitoring here in terms of measuring 24/7 the user experience of speed, and sporadic errors - web performance stuff.

Non-dynamic monitoring (aka 'hit a list of pre-fixed URLs') - doesn't cut it when real customers are now following dynamically generated links.

It's hard without a flexible framework for running multi-page monitoring scripts that 'do what our customers do' online, and dynamically follow the flow uniquely each time based on what the site shows the user.

So overall, I'm expecting a couple of years of more slow sites, more sporadic errors, and more calls to the call centre getting nothing more than: 'we can't see any problem on the monitoring our end....'.


Sometimes feels like the internet is going in circles... just as the beast of IE6 fades away and the pain and millions of lost hours of coding time with it, along comes the AJAX monster to hoover up all the dev time again!

over 8 years ago

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