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Adobe Abandons Mobile Flash: Tips on Implementing HTML5 on Mobile Platforms

A few months ago, we gave some tips on how to define your mobile newsroom presence. One of those tips talked about keeping Flash at a minimum for mobile devices:

While there are mobile devices which can run Flash, using Flash should be avoided for both mobile sites and applications. For video, recent studies show that HTML 5 outperforms Flash on mobile devices.

HTML5 Logo

Yesterday, Adobe announced that they will be ceasing development of the mobile version of Flash Player for mobile browsers in order to continue their focus on HTML5. This is huge news for any organization which uses Flash for mobile websites to deliver multimedia content or interactive graphics.

According to Adobe VP Danny Winokur, “HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively. This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms.” While these are strong words from Adobe, it’s important to note that any organization that begins to transition its Flash content to HTML5 must keep two important thoughts in mind.

There Is No “Silver Bullet” HTML5 Solution

Measure your audience so you can have a good idea of which devices and browsers they use to view your mobile website before you take the plunge into transitioning Flash content to HTML5. This is especially important for video since different browsers will require different formats of your video files in order for them to play properly.

There are several HTML5 video players and conversion tools available on the Web, so organizations have a wide variety of options for creating, converting, and displaying HTML5 content on mobile platforms.

SublimeVideo, MediaElement.jsKaltura HTML5 Media Library, VideoJS, and JW Player are all well-tested for cross-browser compatibility and offer helpful documentation on getting started with HTML5 video. Miro Video Converter and Handbrake are two great programs that can convert video files to any format needed for HTML5 video.

If you use Flash primarily for interactive graphics like data visualizations, Wallaby and Edge are two beta applications from Adobe which are worth exploring. Wallaby can convert artwork and animation contained within Flash files into HTML, and Edge is a tool that allows designers to create animated content using HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS3.

Overall, there are a number of different tools organizations can use when it comes to HTML5 content, and you may have to do some trial and error to find the combination which is best for your organization’s workflow.

HTML5 Video Has Some Limitations

Neiman Journalism Lab notes that news sites that rely heavily on pre-roll and post-roll advertising to monetize video will need to start figuring out a non-Flash solution ASAP. According to Tiffany B. Brown, Web Opener for Opera and expert web developer, “HTML5 video doesn’t yet have…robust streaming capabilities, encapsulation capability, content protection, or camera and microphone support.” These limitations should be kept in mind when developing your strategy for transitioning Flash content to HTML5.

The <video> element, which is new to HTML5, is designed to handle graceful degradation across a wide array of layout engines, which means that if one format for a video does not work in a mobile browser, you can enable alternate versions of the video to load as a fallback. As of the date of this article, videos which you want to display using the <video> element will need to be in three different formats: Ogg, MPEG4, and WebM. These three formats will cover most browsers on Windows Mobile, iOS and Android, as well as any other mobile browsers which utilize the WebKit, Gecko, Trident, or Presto layout engines.

Some organizations have already started to take the leap into HTML5 video on mobile devices, such as CBS and their video library for the iPad:

YouTube and Vimeo have also implemented HTML5 video playback, and their HTML5 videos can be embedded into any web page using a simple iframe. This can be a good option for organizations that are already using either service to upload and share their videos to mobile devices.

As you can see, the HTML5 landscape is quite varied, but there are a lot of tools available to help you get started (as well as a few pitfalls to consider). It will definitely be interesting to see how news organizations start to implement HTML5 on their mobile websites in the future.

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