HTML5 & the Future of Media on the Web

When Apple solidified its stance regarding Flash on the iOS platform (or, the lack thereof), an up-and-coming web standard was suddenly cast into the spotlight.  HTML5 was a new open source and standardized version of the HTML standard (HyperText Markup Language; the basis for all modern web browsing) which had been in development since mid-2004, with the first tentative release in 2007.  Incorporating features of HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.1, the previous mid-life additions to the HTML standard, as well as features of Adobe’s Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight.

Notable additions were drag-and-drop site interaction (very common on the web, thanks to XHTML, developed throughout the mid-2000s) and, more significantly, audio and video playback.  Instead of requiring a 3rd party plugin, such as Flash or Silverlight, or a 3rd party playback codec, such as Quicktime or Windows Media Player, HTML5 could play properly encoded audio and video straight from the browser.  This significantly simplified the prospective future landscape of media on the web.  Instead of being dependent on the development pace of Adobe or Microsoft, web developers were freed to contract their own web plugins taking advantage of the new standards.

As we analyzed the traffic data from our users and readers, we came to realize that almost 30% of our visitors view this site on mobile devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Android devices.  However, most all mobile devices (with the exception of a small number of Android phones) cannot run the flash plugin, meaning that all of our media is inaccessible to them.  Given the relatively high percentage of visitors on mobile browsers and the fact that we have even designed a version of the site for mobile device users (on iPhone, iPad and Blackberry), it seems foolish to continue rendering the media off-limits.  Both the iPhone and iPad, as well as the Android browser (versions 2 and later) completely support the HTML5 standards, and the Blackberry supports the vast majority of them (the audio and video standards are supported in recent phones).  The mobile compatibility, combined with significantly increased performance on desktop devices (particularly laptops and notebooks) make HTML5 a clear choice.

When we launched this site, we encoded our audio and video content using Adobe’s Flash player, given its remarkable compatibility across devices at the time. Now, almost 2 year later, acceptance of Flash appears to be on the downward trend.  New mobile devices no longer include support for flash as a feature, and all new devices support the standards included as part of HTML5.  As of this blog post, all of the audio, video and photographic assets of the site have been transitioned over to standards-compliant HTML5 and CSS implementations. We are still looking at ways to implement our PowerPoint and presentation displays without Flash and hope to have a solution in place by the end of July.

We hope that all of our visitors, whether on desktop or mobile devices, will enjoy the enhanced performance and flexibility that the transition to HTML5 brings to our media and that you continue to enjoy our site.