HTML5 AND FLASH: STILL A CRITICAL COMBINATION
Kapil Bhasin is SVP, Indecomm Learning, with Indecomm Global Services in New York. Indecomm Learning partners with publishers, business, and governments to produce learning solutions that range from traditional instructor-led training to elearning; the company's produced more than 30,000 hours of learning content design, development, and deployment.
While many feel that HTML5 is appropriate for displaying relatively static, web-based content such as text and images, says Bhasin, "when it comes to rich, dynamic, and interactive content like audio, video, and animations, nothing can beat Adobe's Flash. It has many advanced effects that can be created better using Flash technology, while HTML5, still a young standard, has limitations in terms of quality of animation, interaction and movement."
Still, he says, there are some redeeming features and benefits of HTML5 that will help it dominate in the future, particularly for mobile devices. Even Steve Jobs predicted the dominance of non-Flash applications in 2010, says Bhasin, when Jobs said, "Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content" and predicted that "new open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win."
For developers, for now, says Bhasin, it may still be necessary to "continue to rely on Flash for the short term, while investing in further refinements to HTML5 to accrue benefits for the long haul."
The debate over Flash versus HTML5 may rage on, but practicality rules says, Russ Somers, VP of marketing at Invodo. "I think we're past the point of debating pros and cons," says Somers. "Some developers believe they can deliver more elegant experiences in Flash than via HTML5, but what if half your users can't see them? It would be like publishing a newspaper that only half of your audience could read. You have to publish video for both. Video platforms can debate whether it's better to be forward-thinking, HTML5-first developers or risk-averse, Flash-first platforms. That doesn't matter nearly as much as delivering the right experience for each user, regardless of which platform they're on."
SLOW ADOPTION MEANS OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND
The major publishers have been slow to adopt these new technologies. It's likely that they're waiting for the dust to settle in terms of how browser standards will evolve. But a more practical issue exists as well, suggests Adams-a lot of people just don't really fully understand what enhanced ebooks are all about.
"We're still at the stage where we have to educate people," says Adams. "A lot of my marketing is educating people as to what it is and what it adds." What it adds, she says, is enhancement. "It literally adds something to the story-once people get that, they're blown away." But she admits that "the learning curve is very steep." The curve is not only steep for consumers, but for publishers as well. The possibilities that emerge are amazing, and while they definitely offer benefits, they also add additional complexity to the publishing process.
For instance, says Dougal Cameron, COO of Pubsoft, a digital publishing platform based in Houston, "We can detect how readers are reading the material, so we can deduce if too many readers are spending too much time on a particular page or segment of the book." From an educational standpoint, that might suggest the need for some type of revision of the content-or augmentation of that content through video. HTML5 offers a perfect solution here, he says: "An HTML5 video insert is going to be much more efficient in terms of space and also in terms of the way it renders in other applications."
Cameron points to Sourcebooks as an example of a publisher that has been an early adopter of this type of technology. Sourcebooks launched its Sourcebooks MediaFusion imprint in 2000, which is still one of the nation's leading publishers of integrated mixed-media projects. "I think we're on the early end of adoption," he says.
Barriers, Cameron notes, are twofold and related to both creation and consumption of the material. As e-readers such as iPads, Kindles, and others are becoming more widely used, the consumption issues are becoming less prevalent. As technology such as HTML5 evolves, the creation issues are diminishing. Greater adoption is likely to emerge. Content provides are posed with the challenge of figuring out how to dip their toes in the water.
BEST PRACTICES FOR CONTENT PROVIDERS
The first step, suggests Cameron, is to gather data about the current audience-how people are currently accessing material and how they would prefer to access that material. "That's something content providers can do right now with no additional resources needed," he says. It's a step that "needs to precede any alteration of content," he advises. "You can't just throw a video into a book and expect it to succeed. There has to be a compelling reason, and it has to be backed by data."
For those who are ready to move forward with the technology and wondering which platform to pursue, a best practice for now, says Somers, is to publish for both HTML5 and Flash and rely on a video platform that simplifies this process. "If your video vendor can't confidently state, ‘We can serve the right experience to the right user whether HTML5 or Flash,' push for detail and seriously consider choosing someone else if needed." The video platform should, he says, support both and "choose intelligently based on the end user's platform.
Ultimately, technology should enable rather than define the user experience. "The goal for a publisher should be to understand intimately what readers are doing with their material and then use that knowledge to deliver a better experience," says Cameron.
Big benefits are likely to emerge for everyone involved in this brave new world as children of the 21st century are able to virtually meet the characters in their books, adults are able to have complex concepts explained or travel virtually to faraway lands, and everyone continues to explore the emerging opportunities that technology offers.