Monday, November 1, 2010

HTML 5 or Flash?

I hear this question all the time and i believe it is the wrong question. We should always ask for best user experience before we ask us other questions.

Let us face, most of us don't like Flash, many of us can't say why, but we know we don't like it.

A few reasons why I don't like flash is that i am a Mac user and flash does crash my browsers very often. Flash pages do take sometimes too long to load, i just don't like the fancy load circle. A flash page has many times so many things going on that i don't know what i should do as an user, to navigate through the page. And I can't just right click and download a picture when I like it.

All these reasons don't have really to do with flash itself. It is the way designers are using flash. Many times a flash could load instantly without a waiting circle and then load all other parts. However many times designers tend to build one big flash instead of many small flash pieces which get called through the main flash.

As a project manager I don't like flash because any changes in the flash means recompiling the flash to swf and upload it again to the live server. Only flash designer can do updates and it takes forever to make a small text change.

But this is as well just a matter how the flash is developed. A lot of developers are using now for content in the flash XML. Which makes updates of images and content much easier without recompiling the flash piece.

So what is then the problem with flash, maybe too many users can't see flash because the browser does not support flash?

Not really, only a very low percentage of users do have web browsers which can't load flash.

Maybe the problem is SEO. Any content which is within a swf file are not searchable by google or bing. But this is not the reason neither. Flash pages can have no script text for search engines. It is a little bit more work but helps a lot.

HTML 5 is great, it works on any device, if the device supports flash or not.
However when we look at browser statistics then we see that 60% of users are using IE 8 or less which does not support HTML 5 and 22% are using FireFox 3.5 or less which means only partly HTML 5 support. This gives us a 18% chance that we reach consumers with HTML 5 supported browsers. This is a clear win for flash (right now).

Below are stats what HTML 5 support really means(Thank you Deep Blue Sky Blog)

Safari 4.0:

FireFox 3.5:

Google Chrome:

Opera 10:

Internet Explorer 6,7 and 8:

I want to talk a little more about websites and flash or not flash before i will talk about HTML 5.

As a company we should never have full flash pages only because it is cool. We should think when flash does make sense and when it is not necessary. Even without HTML 5, we can already utilize javacript (jquery) and DHTML to get cool effects.

I see many times jpg pictures in flash, even static images, why using flash just to show a slideshow?

Flash is great for vector graphics motions like comic book style, or to embed none Internet fonts. Flash is great that it looks on all browsers the same, but we can do this as well with CSS and proper html encoding. Flash is easy drag and drop to develop (sorry flash gurus, but most of the flash i see is not very complex).
Hover and mouse over can be done without flash. Please think twice before building something in flash, try to think if it can be done without flash. In 7 out of 10 flash pages I see, i know it can be done without flash.

And why again not flash? Faster to load, easier to change, better SEO experience, less crashes and it would work on the iPad.

IPad, the right moment to talk about HTML 5. HTML 5 will come standard and even Microsoft is saying they will go with HTML 5 and silverlight will be only be used in the future for mobile windows 7 app development.
But till then HTML 5 is only important for websites viewed on mobile devices. Many mobile devices don't support flash or only flash light. But just making a website in HTML 5 to support mobile devices is not the answer.
All but the iPad (or other big screen mobile devices) have too small screens that a regular page does not make sense. Plus these mobile devices have mostly touchscreen and for sure no mouse, this means many special effects we are used on PC websites don't work (like on mouse over). Even if your device would support flash the user experience would be bad if and user tries to navigate through a flash page which has mouse typical effects.

When we make the decision to support mobile devices, we need to have an alternative mobile page not a standard page without flash.

And this costs money, there are right now many different screen sizes we have to take in consideration when building a mobile page. We need as well to think what are the navigation interfaces, keyboard, touch screen, buttons etc.

As i mention in many reports, try to know your audience. Understand what device they use to get to your website. And don't look at your browser statistics. If your mobile web experience is bad, the users don't come back to the page with mobile devices. The web statistics might say that only 2.5% of your users are accessing the page through their smart phone, but if you don't have a smart phone version of your website then the % does not get higher. Who wants to navigate twice to a broken page or a page with bad mobile experience. The good part is, that most internet agencies don't have mobile versions of their site neither. See Nick Jones research

Don't ask your co workers anymore if HTML 5 or flash for your next relaunch or brand page. Ask how can we ensure each of our targeted user has the best user experience. Examples:
if you offer QR codes on your product packages then you need to have a mobile page.
If you sell something for an audience which does not surf the Internet mobile, then there is no need for a mobile page.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad.
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