Last week Dennis Schaal wrote an article pondering the question of what travel companies should do with their mobile and web strategies in light of the Apple/Adobe feud over Flash. Dennis got input on whether to continue leveraging the Flash platform or wait for HTML5 to mature from several prominent individuals involved in the travel industry including RockCheetah’s Robert Cole. And Robert got it exactly right…only backwards.
But I don’t want to bury the lead. Let me state up-front: You should not stand on the sidelines and wait for the Adobe-Apple kerfuffle (nod to @jangles) to sort itself out. This will take years. Instead, be thoughtful in establishing your web and mobile strategy and get moving today.
Now let me outline where I have disagreement with Robert’s views.
Different platforms require different modes of presentation based on different usability strategies
Robert worries that uncertainty around the winner of the Flash debate will result in the “dumbing-down” (Dennis’ words, not Robert’s) of sites or the need to invest in multiple sites to support different technology platforms.
In fact, trying to provide the same experience over different devices or platforms is the epitome of dumbing-down. “Write-once, run anywhere” is a siren’s call that can cause many apps to crash on the shores of poor usability and blandness. Different devices have different use cases and capabilities. If you don’t take that into consideration you’re making a fatal mistake. Let me elaborate.
- Think of the use case: In software development, just like in web design, nothing is more important than the use case. For example, prospective travelers are more likely to conduct their primary research during the trip planning phase on their desktop/laptops, but are more likely to use their mobile devices post-booking and while in-situ (e.g. itinerary changes, alerts, making a dinner reservation). So the kind of information that you present and how you present it should differ in each case. While the information you provide the “travel researcher” can have a lot of text, high-res images, and video, the information and options you give the mobile traveler need to be much more streamlined and transactional in nature.
- Consider the device capabilities: First of all you must remember that the desktop paradigm is based around the traditional WIMP (windows-icon-menu-pointer) construct while most smartphone and mobile devices are touch-based. This changes almost everything about the way you need to present your information. In a touch-based paradigm mouse-overs don’t work because you can’t physically do it. The precision of ‘pointing’ is constrained. Finally, and most obviously, not every device has the same screen size or can automatically switch from portrait to landscape mode. To not adapt for the different devices is to leave a lot of potential improvement to the user experience on the table. More importantly, why bother creating an app for a device if you aren’t going to take advantage of specific device capabilities like accelerometers, locators, calendars, or phonebooks?
Finalization of the HTML5 spec will take years, but won’t hinder adoption
It is true that the finalization of the HTML5 spec is not anticipated until 2012. But that’s a very different point than saying that no one will be adopting it until the spec is finalized. If nothing else the web is fluid and reacts quickly. Every desktop browser of note either supports HTML5 currently (Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera) or has pledged its support (Microsoft for the upcoming IE9).
And the same goes for mobile browsers, which are increasingly based on the WebKit standard. Check out this chart from a post in the O’Reilly Radar:
|Blackberry 6 Browser||Webkit||Yes|
|Internet Explorer||Internet Explorer 7||No|
|Bada OS Browser||Webkit||Yes?|
|Opera Mobile||Opera Presto 2.2||Yes|
|Opera Mini||Opera Presto 2.2||Yes|
|Myriad (former Openwave)||Webkit||No|
Overwhelmingly mobile browsers already support HMTL5 (with Microsoft pledging support in the future) and TODAY, none of these mobile browsers (nor really any mobile device I’ve heard of) supports Adobe Flash.
Add on top of this the fact that by all accounts over two-thirds of videos on the web – and perhaps as high as 90% – are available in the H.264 standard used by HTML5-powered sites, I’d say that video content isn’t a deal-breaker anymore.
Let’s get real about “Open Source”
Lastly there is the debate as to who is more open. Is it Adobe or Apple? I think that Daring Fireball’s John Gruber (no relation) says it well.
“Open” is one of those terms that means a lot of different things to different people. Most should be able to agree, though, that open-vs.-closed is a continuum — shades of gray, not just black and white. A light enough shade of gray is “open”, dark enough is “closed”. The arguments are over where those thresholds lie.
I, for example, would argue that HTML5 is open, and that Flash is not. HTML5 is open, to my eyes, because no one vendor defines or controls either its specification or its numerous implementations. The specification is being written and decided upon by consensus by two standards groups, WHATWG and the W3C.
In my view, Adobe’s entire argument is merely a matter of timing. Only now when Adobe is finally planning to release Flash Mobile 10.1 (anticipated to be launched next month on the Android 2.2 OS…backwards availability or compatibility not assured…and H/Pre’s WebOS) after years of delay are they protesting. How much longer should they have expected the rest of the industry to wait before they moved on to a standards-based approach? It’s important to remember that months prior to the release of the iPad and the announcement of iPhone OS4, it was Google who was the most vocal proponent of an HTML5-centric view of the future of the web. Only recently has Google begun to embrace Flash on mobile devices driven by their “the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend” strategy against Apple.
Yes, Adobe’s products have long been a favorite of designers (let’s not forget that it was Apple who helped them achieve that position), but they’re certainly not the most “open” company and there are plenty of alternatives for web and mobile app development to Adobe’s Creative Suite.
OK, one last thing. While Tnooz highlighted the largely sarcastic and self-serving ads by Adobe to show how much they love (i.e. loathe) Apple at this moment, I feel compelled to share a faux-ad that I found on TechCrunch created by an Apple fan that I found truly amusing