Is HTML5 a Flash in the pan?

When Apple promoted HTML5 as an alternative to Flash, the value was said to be in being an open standard, and in having better efficiency for device-based execution.

The problem is that there are no authoring tools for HTML5. Flash is popular because it’s fairly easy to kick start the creative process. You buy the tools from Adobe for a few hundred dollars and begin to tinker. With HTML5 you need to be a programmer, read arcane documentation, search for sample code and manually integrate results into publishing systems. That’s bush league.

iAd Producer narrows the gap a bit.

The bigger question that I struggled with is whether web apps are competitive enough. The absence of tools is a damning accusation that they aren’t. Note that Apple is first introducing production tools for iAd, not for web apps in general nor web content in particular.

So why isn’t there an iWeb-like tool to allow consumers to design web sites (for MobileMe Galleries for example) which benefit from HTML5? At the other end of the spectrum, where are the Apple equivalents to Adobe’s Flash Professional (with CS5 integration)?

The tools for HTML5 are just not there. Tools are the first things needed to build an ecosystem. Is their absence due to a lack of demand or are there no skilled toolmakers outside of Adobe?

When the market is failing to deliver a solution, I question the need for the solution in the first place. It’s also worth while to follow the money: Adobe makes money only on the tools for Flash, not on distribution of content. For anyone to disturb Adobe’s franchise, it’s tools that need to be put forward as alternatives. Tools are not easy to build. Are the incentives simply not there?

I hope iAd producer is the first in a series of tools from Apple to build an HTML5 ecosystem. Whatever the future of web apps is, it’s coming very slowly. No wonder Flash is still a viable business for Adobe.

  • dchu220

    I don't know how good it is, but Adobe has a HTML5 editor available as an add-on for it's latest version of Creative Suite.

  • There are plenty of tools for HTML5. Professional tools for people that make money. Neither it nor Flash are consumer products. Saying HTML5 will fail because there are no consumer tools is like saying iPhone apps will fail because xcode is just for programmers.

    • asymco

      I asked the question for both consumer and professional tools. I also did not suggest HTML5 will fail but that Adobe is still successful with Flash because it makes money selling tools. The absence of a tools business model for HTML5 only highlights the value of the Flash alternative.

      • The tools are there for professionals, some of them even from Adobe themselves, so I assumed your question was focused on the consumer side.

        I don't see an absence of a tools business model, or an absence of tools. Delivering a HTML5 product is no more difficult or easier than delivering a Flash product. In both cases anybody who doesn't know programming will be limited to delivering toys. And by any measure the HTML/JS/CSS tools stack is, and has been for very many years, much more popular and widespread than flash, with a much larger share of the economy.

  • Standard based technology have a different time frame than propriety ones,
    still the market tend to incorporate both.

  • dchu220

    Could you clarify what you mean when you say 'web app'? There are lots of web apps that don't use flash or HTML5.

    • asymco

      Good point. I meant web apps strictly in the context of competing with Flash. iAd is noted by (linked above) as a Flash alternative. It's a good first step.

  • djbtak

    Agree with @fakebaldur: where is the money in consumer tools for consumer production? Yes, Flash had consumer uptake, but to do anything significant you needed someone who could handle scripting. That's actually the opposite of bush league, it's recognising that consumer production is not the driver in establishing content formats. Those tools will come if/when HTML5 becomes the dominant platform – it's not the driver IMO.

  • Actually there are. is your gallery. has your HTML5 animation IDE. I'm not saying these are mature or useful tools. You can make up your own mind. Good tools take time to mature. I was there with Flash 2 or 3 when ActionScript was introduced via drop down menus for scripting. I've been a previous member of Macromedia's Flash Player advisory board drawn from it's developer community. It takes time to develop great tools specific to different needs. When the playback engine (browsers in this case) are spread among multiple vendors

  • Hmmm. Truncated my comment … …with different browsers, screen sizes and CPU speeds the complexity of tooling a great IDE is all that much harder. It'll come but it takes time. The browsers aren't all that old. We just need the tool makers to see a viable ROI and some time to work out who their market are.

    • asymco

      It's good to hear. Last spring I expected by the fall there would be great environments for HTML5. In the summer I even sent an email to Steve Jobs asking where's my HTML5 authoring environment? Still waiting.

      • I would be surprised to see a HTML5 IDE from Apple. Xcode provides the tools for their core experiences in apps. Webkit is already a compelling renderer for the web and always getting better. It doesn't serve their purposes to throw engineering talent into an IDE with limited use. They're already moving engineers from project to project, why would they focus on a HTML5 editor when they have bigger fish to fry? They also have custom HTML5 frameworks they uses in different projects. iAd producer is probably good enough in their mind.

      • Paul F.

        Apple does have a web authoring tool It's called Dashcode and it's included in their development tools.

      • Dashcode is a trivial little IDE compared to something like Flash or Flex. I think Horace was talking about a sophisticated authoring tool capable of much more.

  • And I thought that the fact talent-less hacks can't write HTML5 is the strength of the platform.

  • fjarlq

    There are other examples of HTML5 authoring tools emerging.

    John Nack of Adobe recently posted a summary of the HTML5 authoring tools they have released or are working on:

    Also, the Google Web Toolkit can be used to develop Java programs which are later compiled into optimized JavaScript for use in any browser. GWT includes some support of HTML5, with more support being developed. And you can use your favorite Java development environment, such as Eclipse, so you have a real IDE with a debugger and so on.

    How significant a factor is lack of HTML5 support in browsers? IE6 through IE8 mostly lack HTML5 support — that's about half of all web browsers in use today. As IE9 emerges that will finally change, but that will be a slow process. IE8 was released March 2009 and after about two years it will have gained about a third of the browser market share. With that in mind I think it will take another couple years for HTML5 to arrive in force.

    • That's in Desktop.
      On mobile HTML5(via webkit) is on every popular smartphone.

      Anyway once the tipping point is reached HTML5 browser enabled would
      be on every browser supporting computing device (that would be in about 5 month),
      and you could expect ~80% reached in a year.
      My guess is that you would see mature enough IDE by then.

  • Rob Scott

    But Apple is not into web apps. Why would they waste time developing tools for web apps? The complaint was that creatives wanted tools to create ads, that is what Apple has created.

  • RattyUK

    They've done the groundwork with this iAds tool. Look out for extensive HTML 5 tools in iWeb 11.

  • WWP

    Steve Job's answer (with 99% certainty): They're coming soon!

  • Jon T

    A few months back when the big fight over Flash was running, many were saying that HTML5 was good for 10 years out.

    So, here we are a few short months saying there aren't enough tools?!

    Just watch the gap get filled over the next year. And no, Adobe does not have a monopoly on producing tools.

    Aslo, iWeb, which is due an upgrade, already produces all its code without the need to resort to Flash. Slideshows, movies, forms, blogs et al. So there is already one – very good -tool available.

  • iAd Producer is a tool for ad agency creatives to quickly validate ideas on a real iPhone with really quick round-trip times.

    Ad agencies will gladly polish approved ads to ridiculous extent, but it's during the drafting phase that iAd Producer is valuable – as a quick way to test your ideas on the actual phone. As a bonus you get something that you can show to a client who will want to see what he will be getting with the Apple media buy.

  • Abhi Beckert

    I work as a programmer at a company who’s core business is web design.

    The tools you’re talking about do exist, but they drastically cut down on the possibilities of HTML5. No-one has ever been able to make a tool that is as flexible as code. In fact, this applies to flash as well, all the really good flash animation designers i’ve ever met do everything in action script.

    A few years ago, we decided it’s easier to train our designers in basic programming, than to have them work with gui tools. They resisted at first, but now don’t want to go back. Even basic code skills gives a better end result than any of the GUI tools (even when working in flash). When they don’t know how to do something… There’s a team of 5 programmers down the hall to help them out.

  • Horace the Grump

    I suspect that the answer is that Apple is not interested in producing HTML5 production software because this is not a core business of Apple and it the economics currently don't stack.

    Apple's position on Flash has essentially been that Flash is a huge resource hog and eats battery life for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So it won't support Flash because Flash degrades the customer experience of the iOS device.

    IMHO Apple is looking to Adobe and others to build HTML5 production tools and is using the refusal to deploy Flash as leverage to get a better customer experience, without having to pony up the crinkle itself. Not a bad strategy – plus Apple gets the bonus of banging on about open standards etc etc etc…

    So the HTML5 production tools aren't here yet in the form you desire, but I expect that they aren't far away.

  • What sort content can non-programmers create with Flash that they can't create with HTML5? As far as I can see, the answer is "relatively simple non-interactive animation", which with one exception (see below) isn't all that common or important to the market.

    Pretty much any sort of interactivity beyond hyperlinks and rollovers requires writing code, and it's hard to think of many important instances in which that code is dramatically easier to write with Flash. Sure, Flash lets you lay out interface elements graphically before writing the code to add behavior to them. But graphical tools for HTML layout have been around for years. They're unpopular among professionals because hand-coded markup + CSS provides more flexibility, better semantics, and often ends up being faster for non-trivial cases because it allows for automation (say, markup for a form generated automatically based on what fields exist a database) and code re-use.

    In fact, just about the only thing the market seems to care about that designers without programming skills can plausibly do in Flash and not in HTML5 is create simple web ads, and Apple's new tool addresses precisely that. (I'm sure the license only lets you use it for iAds, not general web ads, but it's a technical proof of concept nonetheless.)

  • Mark Hernandez

    Great question and responses. As someone who wrote their first program in '68 and has been developing software and using developer tools ever since…

    Given this ultimate goal…

    Simplicity allows us to rise to a higher level of accomplishment,
    given the fixed amount effort we have available to expend.

    … why is it, then, we’ll make things like the iPhone/iPad so incredibly dead-simple to use so a wider range of people can do way more with less effort, but little such effort gets expended towards making our development environments equally as easy to use, and thus highly leveraged and more widely used?

    Here are a few reasons why:

    — TECH MAY CHANGE FAST ENOUGH that it has a tendency to pull the rug out from under large efforts to refine and simplify tools.

    — ENVIRONMENTS ARE SUCH A MESS TO BEGIN WITH they defy simplification. (e.g. HTML’s awful design, and the scores of languages and tech trying to compensate.)

    — GEEKS ARE COMPETITIVE to the point where their hard-won effort to master a platform makes them much less likely to slow themselves down and make things easier for the next guy — a potential competitor.

    — THE PRESSURE IS OPPRESSIVE to the point that you just do what you gotta do and then get the hell outta there and move on. Hurry! It's the poor state of our environments largely responsible for that oppression.

    — INFORMATION IS HORRIBLY MANAGED. It’s so unbelievably bad, pathetic and embarrassing it goes unnoticed. We’re in the second decade of the 21st Century!

    For instance, you really have to hunt to find good info for developing for Mac OS. But iOS has the opposite problem, mass quantities of information literally barfed up everywhere — over 70 books with at least 15 more scheduled, hundreds of videos, hundreds of sample programs, countless websites, forums, RSS feeds, conferences. I’m currently an expert in this area, so I know what I’m talking about. Too much information is as bad as not enough. But still, it’s in one giant disorganized haystack.

    ————- Compare and Contrast

    Experienced object-oriented programmers, for instance, have a 3D model in their heads as to how their environment fits together, the relationships between objects and classes, and how they interact.

    But to teach someone new, WORDS are used! It’s the equivalent of taking a whole 3D world and serializing it through a tiny straw at 9600 baud, hoping the learner reconstructs things properly, one spitball at a time. Maybe a graph or image (visual fragment) will be offered up. We know how this goes.

    Well, why can’t we just show the learner the “3D environment” directly in the first place? Apple is a stone’s throw from Pixar. Why isn’t there 3D documentation of iOS and Mac OS? I have VCR videos from the 80's that explain things using 3D. (The Mechanical Universe.)

    Just imagine if we made learning app development as dead-simple as learning to use the iPhone itself? What if we kept gotchas and exceptions to the rule WITH the documentation itself, instead of lost in a [Apple] forum (or a mailing list!) that even Google can’t find because you didn’t phrase the English search term correctly? What if information were self-cleaning and self-organizing? This is NOT technology beyond our reach.

    I’ve chosen my words carefully, and I describe our current situation with developer tools and information management as PATHETIC and unworthy of who we are and what we do.

    It all boils down to this, I think:

    Developers treat the customer like kings,
    but they treat each other like crap.

    Mark Hernandez
    The Information Workshop

    P.S. Notice how we’ll all nod in agreement, then go back to what we were doing. Yeah, exactly.

    • Mark Hernandez

      No offense to our beloved Horace, but look at this comment section. It's ugly, hard to read, and decades-old features like bold and italic are unavailable. I had the two quotes in my text above indented, but it was stripped away.

      Case in point.

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    The reason for the lack of HTML5 design tools is that if you are a Web designer, you use Adobe Creative Suite (no HTML5) and your biggest target browser is Internet Explorer (no HTML5). But consider that even with those huge impediments, there is a lot of HTML5 on the Web already, and a lot of support in coding tools like JQuery and so on. Further, both Adobe and Microsoft are moving towards HTML5 compatibility at their typical snail's pace.

    iAd Producer is not an HTML5 authoring tool per se, it's a WebKit authoring tool. iAds run in WebKit in the same way that iOS apps run in CocoaTouch. The carousels and similar are WebKit features, not HTML5 features. For iAd Producer to be redone as "Web Producer" it would have to be able to author not just WebKit, but also HTML5. That is doable, but what is not doable right now is it would also have to author HTML4, because of the existing Internet Explorer user base. Internet Explorer is holding all the new tools back because the developer of the tool has to hack in all the unique quirks of Internet Explorer to make a broad-based Web development tool. Once the bulk of the Web is on an HTML5 browser, we will see a lot of movement in tools, because the standardized nature of HTML5 makes tool authoring easier.

    HTML5 is the publishing language of the World Wide Web. Arguing against HTML5 is arguing against the Web. The features found in the HTML5 spec are not academic features we hope to use one day, they are existing features in Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and IE9. It's not a matter of if, but simply of when.

  • Glad to see someone else thinks that the existence of the Flash authoring tool is such a big deal. I think that the bottom line is that everyone has to start somewhere, and Flash really is for a different mindset than the ‘throw all these different technologies together to copy something simple’ type.

    All the best Flash devs that I know, who are more forcused on the end product than showing off some tech, use the bare minimum tech to produce their vision.

    I think almost everyone also dismisses the power of the Flash community. Adobe’s a huge idiot and needs get its collective head out of its ass and focus on the ‘I want to make something that can be distributed online’ market. Because right now it’s almost physically impossible for most of their users to pay for the software, until they start making money off their creations.

    And Flash is the worst online video player ever. It needs to die.

  • The problem here is that there are two kinds of mentalities: the visual designer mindset and the developer's mindset. As also the comments above are confirming, the current tools are just fit for developer's, while the huge strength of Flash is that it's primarily built for visual/interaction designers and just secondarily for developers (and developers can use the Flex SDK too).

    What's funny for me is that today we have this huge gap, a missing tool made for designers that delivers HTML5, and the only one that is picking the challenge is… Adobe. Slowly, but it's doing that. And no software house or startup is going into this market.

    This gap exists since almost 1-2 years ago, and while HTML5 is surely not completely ready, a small tool could have evolved since then, in parallel. Today? Adobe is slow, but the gap is closing.

  • Dr Nero hit one issue spot on.

    If you're a creative pro in any area of Design, publishing, print or online, you pretty much HAVE to have Adobe's Creative Suite tools to be professionally relevant. Since they ate Macromedia, quite blatantly to get their hands on Flash, they have near microsoft level monopoly in Professional Publishing and Production Applications. But the cost of Creative Suite is a … *ahem*… non-trivial. And Flash is, unless you have a bent for programming, a bit of a nightmare for a visual designer. You need to have the right brain visual skills of a designer to come up the graphics, but also be a stone cold left-brain coder to make flash DO anything in ActionScript 3.

    This can be challenging in smaller working environments where you're a solo freelancer or the one man Art Department for a small business. And even though I have been using more javascript and JQuery modules, Flash is STILL the unavoidable default cross platform solution for multimedia playback. Almost all the JS and JQuery use Flash Players for audio and video. The ones that don't mostly painfully fail the cross browser test.

    And Adobe (or Google ) protests aside, Flash is a horrifying resource hog, mac, PC or Android device. And Google's current stand – largely to the benefit of Adobe – on H.264 only muddles the adoption of HTML5 standards, and helps to entrench Flash's relevance for years to come.

    But yeah, were ARE the pro tools? And no, I don't really consider iWeb a pro tool. Sorry, Steve.
    (Waiting patiently to bend over for my next CS upgrade rape from Adobe… )