Is HTML5 Ready for eLearning Development?

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Last week, while justifying Apple’s refusal to allow Flash player on iPhone/iPad, Steve Jobs wrote– “New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too)”. A few days before the launch of iPad Apple had released a list of ‘iPad ready’ websites having support for HTML5. Clearly Apple is backing HTML 5, CSS 3 and JavaScript for developing future web applications.

Yes, HTML5 is a major revision over its predecessor HTML4. Some pertinent questions need to be asked.

Is it ready for eLearning Development?
More specifically- Is it ready to compete with Flash for eLearning Development?

I think HTML5 still has some real constraints and it may not replace Flash for eLearning/mLearning development in near future. In fact I believe it may not replace Flash at all. Here are a few reasons why–

Browsers Lack HTML5 Full Support – While making HTML5 the de-facto standard Apple seems to have forgotten that none of the web browsers for mobile or desktop have full HTML 5 implementations at this time. Internet Explorer ( IE 6, 7 and 8 ) the most widely used web browsers has no support for HTML5. The new version (IE 9) which is expected to be released sometime in 2011will support HTML5. Check out this website that can test HTML5 support in a browser. What’s really surprising is that even Apple iPad Safari browser doesn’t have full HTML5 support.

Cross Platform / Browser Compatibility – Every browser has its own rendering mechanism so an application developed for iPad Safari is not guaranteed to work well in other browsers like IE, Firefox or Chrome. Developers will have to make modifications in code to make it work in different browsers. This is not the case with plugins like Flash or Silverlight where the applications once developed can run on all the browsers without any modifications. I’d think this issue with web browsers will probably remain even after they have all implemented full HTML5 support.

Audio/Video Support – HTML5 has added new video and audio tags that can play video/audio in a browser without a plugin but it doesn’t officially support any video or audio format. A few browsers like Firefox support Ogg Theora (an open source format) while others like Safari support H.264 (this is a proprietary format and licensing fee is required to support this format). This Wikipedia article provides more details about HTML5 video support. Content developers who plan to use HTML5 for delivering video or audio content have to spend more time in encoding the videos to Ogg Theora and to H.264 formats so that all major browsers are supported, but this is not sufficient as IE doesn’t support the video tag and would not be able to play the video or audio file without a plug-in. On the other hand, Flash supports FLV/FV4 formats and those are not browser dependent. Also, Flash or Silverlight video/audio supports secure media streaming; there is no clear counterpart for this in HTML5. The use of Video in eLearning is only going to increase, so this is going to be a big issue for developers going forward.

Development Tools – There are no tools available (except Dreamweaver CS5 which was released just last week and I still have to figure out its HTML5 support) that can create animations for HTML5 having a good designer developer workflow required to create quality graphics and animations like Flash Professional. To create animations with HTML5 developers have to code animations using JavaScript and CSS. A task which tools like Flash professional can do in minutes may take hours, if not days, to do using HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. And even if they do, I doubt the final HTML5 output would be as good as what we get from Flash.

These are just a few reasons why HTML5 is not ready for web or eLearning development and technologies like Flash or Silverlight will still prevail until HTML5 (CSS3 and JavaScript) doesn’t overcome its constraints.

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