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.