iPad as the new Flash


Jeffrey Zeldman Presents

iPad. Never have so many embraced a great product for exactly the wrong reasons.

Too many designers and publishers see the iPad as an opportunity to do all the wrong things—things they once did in Flash—without the taint of Flash.

In the minds of many, the iPad is like Flash that pays. You can cram traditional publishing content into an overwrought, novelty Flash interface as The New York Times once did with its T magazine. You may win a design award but nobody will pay you for that content. Ah, but do the same thing on the iPad instead, and subscribers will pay—maybe not enough to save publishing, but enough to keep the content coming and at least some journalists, editors, and art directors employed.

It’s hard to argue with money and jobs, and I wouldn’t dream of doing so.

Alas, the early success of a few publications—publications so good they would doubtless survive with or without iPad—is creating a stampede that will not help most magazines and interfaces that will not please most readers.

Everything we’ve learned in the past decade about preferring open standards to proprietary platforms and user-focused interfaces to masturbatory ones is forgotten as designers and publishers once again scramble to create novelty interfaces no one but them cares about.

While some of this will lead to useful innovation, particularly in the area of gestural interfaces, that same innovation can just as readily be accomplished on websites built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript—and the advantage of creating websites instead of iPad apps is that websites work for everyone, on browsers and devices at all price points. That, after all, is the point of the web. It’s the point of web standards and progressive enhancement.

Luke Wroblewski’s Touch Gesture Reference Guide gives designers plenty of ammunition to create dynamic user experiences that work on a wide variety of mobile phones and devices (including iPad) while these same sites can use traditional desktop browser effects like hover to offer equally rich experiences on non-touch-enabled browsers. Unless your organization’s business model includes turning a profit by hiring redundant, competing teams, “Write once, publish everywhere” makes more economic sense than “Write once, publish to iPad. Write again, publish to Kindle. Write again, publish to some other device.”

I’m not against the iPad. I love my iPad. It’s great for storing and reading books, for browsing websites, for listening to music and watching films, for editing texts, presentations, and spreadsheets, for displaying family photos, and on and on. It’s nearly all the stuff I love about my Mac plus a great ePub reader slipped into a little glass notebook I play like a Theremin.

I’m not against iPad apps. Twitterific for iPad is by far the best way to use Twitter. After all, Twitter is really an internet service, not a website; Twitter’s own site, while leaps ahead of where it used to be, is hardly the most useful or delightful way to access its service. Gowalla for iPad is my constant companion. I dread the idea of traveling without it. And there are plenty of other great iPad apps I love, from Bloom, an “endless music machine” by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers, to Articles, which turns Wikipedia into an elegant reading experience, to Mellotronics for iPad, an uncannily accurate Mellotron simulator packed with 13 authentic voices—“the same production tapes featured on Strawberry Fields Forever” and other classic tracks (not to mention tracks by nouveau retro bands like Eels).

There are apps that need to be apps, demand to be apps, and I admire and learn from them like every other designer who’s alive at this moment.

I’m just not sold on what the magazines are doing. Masturbatory novelty is not a business strategy.

Apple Responds

Apple responds to the Adobe "We love Apple" ad.

Via yfrog.com/83n4fp. See also:


Web charts with HTML5 + Flash

ZingChart hopes to end the war between HTML5 and Flash in web-based charting:

Today we launched the first charting library that renders charts and graphs in both HTML5 <canvas> and Flash. Rather than join the Flash vs. <canvas> debate, we built a version that renders charts in both frameworks. With the recent launch of the iPad, we hope ZingChart Flash + HTML5 <canvas> helps the growing data visualization community focus on building great visualizations rather than worrying about compatibility.

For you visual learners and tinkerers, here’s the demo:

www.zingchart.com/flash-and-html5-canvas/

via ZingChart.

Next question: How accessible is it?


E-books, Flash, and Standards

In Issue No. 302 of A List Apart for people who make websites, Joe Clark explains what E-book designers can learn from 10 years of standards-based web design, and Daniel Mall tells designers what they can do besides bicker over formats.

Web Standards for E-books

by Joe Clark

E-books aren’t going to replace books. E-books are books, merely with a different form. More and more often, that form is ePub, a format powered by standard XHTML. As such, ePub can benefit from our nearly ten years’ experience building standards-compliant websites. That’s great news for publishers and standards-aware web designers. Great news for readers, too. Our favorite genius, Joe Clark, explains the simple why and how.

Flash and Standards: The Cold War of the Web

by Daniel Mall

You’ve probably heard that Apple recently released the iPad. The absence of Flash Player on the device seems to have awakened the HTML5 vs. Flash debate. Apparently, it’s the final nail in the coffin for Flash. Either that, or the HTML5 community is overhyping its still nascent markup language update. The arguments run wide, strong, and legitimate on both sides. Yet both sides might also be wrong. Designer/developer Dan Mall is equally adept at web standards and Flash; what matters, he says, isn’t technology, but people.

Illustration by Kevin Cornell for A List Apart.

Betting on the web

Must-read analysis at Daring Fireball anatomizes the “war” between Flash and web standards as a matter of business strategy for companies, like Apple and Google, that build best-of-breed experiences atop lowest-common-denominator platforms such as the web:

It boils down to control. I’ve written several times that I believe Apple controls the entire source code to iPhone OS. (No one has disputed that.) There’s no bug Apple can’t try to fix on their own. No performance problem they can’t try to tackle. No one they need to wait for. That’s just not true for Mac OS X, where a component like Flash Player is controlled by Adobe.

I say what Apple cares about controlling is the implementation. That’s why they started the WebKit project. That’s why Apple employees from the WebKit team are leaders and major contributors of the HTML5 standards drive. The bottom line for Apple, at the executive level, is selling devices. … If Apple controls its own implementation, then no matter how popular the web gets as a platform, Apple will prosper so long as its implementation is superior.

Likewise with Google’s interest in the open web and HTML5. … So long as the web is open, Google’s success rests within its own control. And in the same way Apple is confident in its ability to deliver devices with best-of-breed browsing experiences, Google is confident in its ability to provide best-of-breed search results and relevant ads. In short, Google and Apple have found different ways to bet with the web, rather than against the web.

Related posts, on the off-chance you missed them:


Ahem

The first part of my post of 1 February was not an attack on Flash. It described a way of working with Flash that also supports users who don’t have access to Flash. I’ve followed and advocated that approach for 10 years. It has nothing to do with Apple’s recent decisions and everything to do with making content available to people and search engines.

It’s how our agency and others use Flash; we’ve published articles on the subject in our magazine, notably Semantic Flash: Slippery When Wet by Daniel Mall.

We do the same thing with JavaScript—make sure the site works for users who don’t have JavaScript. It’s called web development. It’s what all of us should do.

My point was simply that if you’re an all-Flash shop that never creates a semantic HTML underpinning, it’s time to start creating HTML first—because an ever-larger number of your users are going to be accessing your site via devices that do not support Flash.

That’s not Apple “zealotry.” It’s not Flash hate. It’s a recommendation to my fellow professionals who aren’t already on the accessible, standards-based design train.


THE SECOND PART OF MY POST wasn’t Flash hate. It was a prediction based on the way computing is changing as more people at varying skill levels use computers and the internet, and as the nature of the computer changes.

There will probably always be “expert” computer systems for people like you and me who like to tinker and customize, just as there are still hundreds of thousands of people who hand-code their websites even though there are dozens of dead-simple web content publishing platforms out there these days.

But an increasing number of people will use simpler computers (just as we’ve seen millions of people blog who never wrote a line of HTML).


THE THIRD PART OF MY POST wasn’t Flash hate. It was an observation that Google and Apple, as companies, have more to gain from betting on HTML5 than from pinning their hopes to Adobe. That’s not a deep insight, it’s a statement of the obvious, and making the statement doesn’t equate to hating Adobe or swearing allegiance to Google and Apple—any more than stating that we’re having a cold winter makes me Al Gore’s best friend.

(Although I like Gore, don’t get me wrong. I also like Apple, Google, and Adobe. My admiration for these companies, however, does not impede my ability to make observations about them.)


THE THIRD PART OF MY POST ALSO WASN’T a blind assertion that HTML5, with VIDEO and CANVAS, is ready to replace Flash today, or more adept than Flash, or more accessible than Flash. Flash is currently more capable and it is far more accessible than CANVAS.

We have previously commented on HTML5’s strengths and weaknesses (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C) and are about to publish a book about HTML5 for web designers. HTML5 is rich with potential; Flash is rich with capability and can be made highly accessible.

That it is unstable on Mac and Linux is one reason Apple chose not to include it in its devices; that this omission will change the way some developers create web content is certain. If the first thing it does is encourage them to develop semantic HTML first, that’s a win for everyone who uses the web.

Carry on.


swfIR (swf Image Replacement)

Happy Cog’s Jon Aldinger, Mark Huot, and Dan Mall have published an image replacement method to remove some of the limitations of the standard HTML image object while supporting standards-based design concepts.

Using unobtrusive JavaScript, progressive enhancement, and Flash, swfIR (pronounced “swiffer”) lets designers include high-quality, scalable artwork in user-resizable web layouts—and even add styles to the images.

[tags]swfIR, imagereplacement, design, webdesign, webstandards, flash[/tags]

ALA 233: Semantic Flash, Valid Arguments

In Issue 233 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Semantic Flash: Slippery When Wet
The love that dare not speak its name gets its due as Happy Cog’s Dan Mall explores some of the ways Flash can enhance semantic, standards-based site designs. Part One of a series. Includes do-it-yourself, “shiny floor” project built with web standards and, yes, Flash (there, we said it).
Where Our Standards Went Wrong
No, they didn’t go wrong by using Flash. A List Apart’s Ethan Marcotte weighs the pros and cons of rigorous validation. Re-examine your assumptions. Discover the silent weight of invalid markup. Consider how to better educate clients on the benefits of web standards.

This issue goes out to our friends at SXSW Interactive.

Edited by Erin Kissane. Produced by Erin Lynch. Tech-edited by Aaron Gustafson and Ethan Marcotte (is that fair?). Illustrated by Kevin Cornell. Art directed by Jason Santa Maria. Published by Happy Cog. It’s shake and bake and I helped.

[tags]webstandards, flash, design, webdesign, alistapart, validation, ethanmarcotte, danmall, danielmall[/tags]

ALA 232: Flash cage match, multi-column CSS

In Issue No. 232 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Flash Embedding Cage Match
“How can you best embed Flash content?” In search of an answer, Bobby van der Sluis of UFO fame defines the criteria that matter most to modern web developers: standards compliance, cross browser support, support for alternative content, avoidance of content/player mismatches, auto-activation of active content, and (why not?) ease of implementation.
He then surveys current best-practice alternatives, explains how each works and evaluates pros and cons. And he wraps it up with a surprise ending. Oops. Spoiler.
Multi-Column Layouts Climb Out of the Box
An environmentally responsible energy policy. The perfect snack. Multi-column layouts with equal height columns. Three worthy goals that always seem to elude our grasp. Alan Pearce can help with the layout problem. Building on prior solutions, Pearce shows how to create elastic and liquid three-column layouts with fixed-width sidebars and equal height columns.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, flash, embed, css, layout, 3column[/tags]