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The “HTML5 vs. Flash War” in Regards to the Music Industry

[This article was initially posted on Tight Mix]

In addition to music, I also like to read up on technology (the two have always been closely related), so I subscribe to several tech-related RSS feeds. I have been loosely following the feud between Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs and Adobe, the creator of the popular “Flash” web plug-in. Steve’s passionate hatred of Flash kind of intrigued me. Apparently, there is a new version of HTML (the main language used to code the Internet) that may rid Internet of those web plug-ins (like Flash) that you are annoyingly forced to download (and that public computers never seem to have) in order to view certain websites. There is currently a working subset of the code that is already in use, most notably by popular video sites YouTube and Vimeo. Should companies in the music industry that use Flash to create their websites and widgets be concerned?

People like to jibber jabber, and lots of bloggers were extremely quick to revere HTML5 as the replacement of Flash, and “the future.” Although dramatic, are they right? Well, effing DUH – HTML5 is only around in a limited, subset form right now. So it is probably safe to assume that yes, a full version will emerge eventually, and at a time that isn’t the past or present. Thanks for that, guys. As far as being a replacement for popular plug-ins like Flash and Java, however…this is still kind of unclear. The W3C and browser vendors (ehem, Internet Explorer) are extremely slow to change, and it’s been predicted that the W3C won’t even consider THINKING ABOUT revising HTML to its fifth version until 2012. So that makes me think that Flash will be safe, for now. I think.

However, HTML5 seems to pose some clear advantages over Flash and other web plug-ins, which I guess is why Steve Jobs got his panties all in a bunch about it. It seems to have a clear advantage in the realm of web productivity apps. For example, lots of Google Apps currently use a combination of HTML+Javascript(Ajax) to create really compelling and efficient experiences for their users (think Gmail). No Flash plug-in required, much speedier, and a productivity boost. Cool.

The second broad class of web applications, and the one that relates the most to the music industry, is Rich Media Apps. These apps include things like online music/radio/video, rich media advertising, and widgets. There are tons of music-related companies like PandoraLast.fmTopspinReverbnation, and Fairtilizer, that utilize Flash to help enhance their websites, as well as their interactive and easily shareable widgets. Many music-related widgets that litter the Internet are so great because of the rich experience that the Flash platform can provide. In regards to widgets, Flash (which can be combined with HTML) seems to be the option that creates the best experience for the user. However, there are companies like Bandcamp who appear to be doing just fine using HTML+Javascript for their integrated music players (they use Flash for their embeddable widgets). It is still unclear whether HTML5 will be able to replicate the same experience, or do it better.

I am a huge fan of Fairtilizer’s Flash-based music player widgets. Their unique visualization is trendy as hell, and they’re ridiculously easy to use.

Should us industry dudes/dudettes care? Should music fans care? Should companies in the music industry that create Flash-based widgets be worried, and consider the HTML5 route? Personally, I think that Flash still has at least another decade of shelf life, and that music radio giants like Pandora & shouldn’t be worried yet – just aware of what’s going on, and actively experimenting with the new technology.

Reader Comments (26)

A few HTML 5 hacks have surfaced during the various Music Hack Days that took place over the last year. I'm quite excited by the visualization possibilities offered by HTML 5. Check this simple hack displaying lyrics of a song:

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterFine Tuning

On the contrary! Anyone wanting their software to work on iPhones or iPads need to come up with a non-Flash alternative NOW.

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterJim

@ Fine Tuning. That's excellent!


Ten years is a lifetime on the Internet! Flash will be the IE6 of the next decade: somewhat supported, but dreaded everywhere.

A few things here:

Artists should certainly reconsider investing in Flash-heavy sites. I would recommend against choosing a site design that is built entirely out of Flash.

Widgets don't matter as much. Without a doubt, every widget maker is looking at HTML5. It won't be long before both (HTML5 and Flash) options are available everywhere.

If you want to be on the iPhone or iPad - Flash is not an option.

Thanks for the post.

@Fine Tuning....very cool stuff! I cannot wait to fool around with those hacks, the lyrics hack is a really great idea, and something I have yet to see on any artist's website. Thanks for the valuable links. on!

@Bruce....the short conversation over at Audible Hype last week about widgets motivated me to do some further research and write this up, so thanks for that (assuming that Bruce was you). Also, while Flash will probably never be supported by iPods, iPhones, or iPads, do you think they will be able to weasel their way onto other smart phone devices like Blackberries and Droids? Will that keep them afloat for longer? I think there are a few beta browser apps out for both of those mobile operating systems that support Flash, but I'm not sure. I think the one for Blackberry is called Bolt.

FWIW, Bandcamp still uses Flash for music playback. It's just hidden under HTML. (try browsing the band pages with plug-ins disabled and you'll see what I mean)

BTW, I agree. Flash is the best tech for a consistent media experience.

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterJP

@ Chris - That was me. I lost track of that conversation. Glad it's being continued..

As a musician and Flash developer, I don't think it is a battle that has a definite answer.

HTML5 has great potential to be the next widely used platform, but it is still in development. At the moment, however, it is years behind Flash. Take a look at and see the way Flash is able to be used for data visualization. I don't think I'm alone in saying that HTML5 is years away from being able to mimic that functionality, if at all.

Even though HTML5 is behind Flash in certain areas, it also has great potential for the average designer. Flash is inappropriately overused. Heck, there's the statistic that Adobe released that said 75% of all online video is viewed via Flash Player. Also, there are countless games, as well as websites that utilize Flash perfectly. It just couldn't be reproduced in another language.

For the designer who wants to develop simple interactions and design elements, HTML5 is the answer. For the designer who wants to develop something that brings the user into their world (, Flash is the answer. Moreover, Actionscript 3.0 (the language behind Flash) is what drives this platform beyond its alternatives.

This shouldn't be a battle. The two technologies should exist together in harmony and create wonderful things. Not allowing Flash is not allowing creativity and new mind-blowing experiences. That may be a drastic way of putting it, but it encompasses how I feel.

Come on, Mr. Jobs, you should know better!

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

The philosophical arguments of Flash vs. HTML5 are fun, but moot. As of today, iTunes still dominates the digital music market, and iTunes users are largely iPod/iPhone/iPad users. At the very least you should be thinking about detecting Apple devices and offering direct links to iTunes from your website.

I agree with Bruce above: ambitious web developers everywhere are already building HTML5 audio and video widgets to replace Flash widgets. I predict web-savvy outfits like Bandcamp and Topspin are already laying plans to swap out Flash with HTML5 where it's supported.

If your webmaster isn't at least paying attention to HTML5/CSS3, you're wasting your money IMO.

May 24 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

BTW, there's nothing in that Fairtilizer widget that couldn't be reproduced today in HTML5 and JavaScript. Nothing.

May 24 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew


Your perspective can be forgiven, because you've clearly invested a large amount of your life into Flash. You're a true believer, and that's a powerful thing. However, it's almost certainly biasing your judgement — your assertion that there can only be one, Flash-dominated future is short-sighted.

ActionScript is just a derivative of ECMAScript (aka JavaScript) and most of the performance issues you associate with JavaScript are actually the fault of the browser DOM. Two major technical innovations have occurred: blazing fast JavaScript VMs (like Google's V8) and broad support for Canvas and SVG in browsers.

Canvas allows you to draw anything you want at the pixel level. It's natively supported in everything except IE, and does work in IE via CSS hackery and/or Google Chrome Frame - a trick to embed Google's Chrome browser into IE.

However, Microsoft's IE team are actively working to get Canvas support into IE9. If they succeed, then your claim that Flash apps "couldn't be reproduced in another language" is rendered completely false.

Already, Google's V8 runs JS faster than Flash runs AS3. Browsers can enable support for hardware accelerated Canvas and SVG. Meanwhile, Flash runs very poorly on Apple computers (and not at all on mobile devices).

All of this leads me to say that you should broaden your horizons. Canvas + HTML5 can free you, if you let it.


There's a growing movement of hackers and browser implementors that want to drive progress instead of waiting for the W3C to approve it. At the rate we're going browsers will be iterating better and better HTML5 stacks a decade before the W3C gives its blessing.

I think that's actually a good thing.

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterPete Forde

Please don't overstate HTML 5 as the next best thing. It's like the time the laser disc was being hailed the next big thing. Remember that? All you're doing by giving into the Apple hype is making the web worse and providing crap experience like CSS/HTML does. Yes some day it may be a standard and SOMEDAY it may be great but that is SOMEDAY as in we don't know when, where or how. @Pete Forde you are just as clouded in your proclamations "Flash runs very poorly on Apple computers (and not at all on mobile devices)" - Have you ever head of a this mobile technology called Android? Iphone isn't the majority of the market but Apple does a great job pretending it is. Please get a clue and keep reinventing the wheel on your little canvas.

May 24 | Unregistered Commentermanco

Is there a cost difference between HTML 5 Developers and Flash Developers? Is Flash cheaper? or faster to build in? That would be a key decision as well in the process, my site is built in flash and I fear it will have to make the switch to HTML 5 in the next couple of years.

May 24 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Sapp

@JP thanks for the clarification regarding Bandcamp. I had not realized that!

@Kevin I agree, I think they both should exist and be used together to create really awesome websites and applications.

@scottandrew I'm sure that is 100% true, since those widgets are fairly lightweight, but I have yet to see anything similar made with HTML5....have you? I'd love to check it out.

@Pete you raise some great (and totally geeky) points. I think it is a great thing as well, yay for innovation. However, at this moment, HTML5 + CSS + Javascript seem to be better capable of accomplishing lightweight tasks (like ones in the code hacks that Fine Tuning provided) better than Flash. But when it comes to really robust applications like Pandora, that is where Flash really outperforms; for now at least, and probably into the near future (~5-10 years).

@manco relax dude...

Every level is 'still' in development.

I have done web design/dev and online marketing for over 2 years, in that time not only has HTML5 come around, CSS3 has as well. Let's say i have made 20 websites this year alone, in varying formats. Only one or two i have utilized HTML5, neither of these are published online but instead sit in my 'templates' folder waiting to be utilized for future designs etc.

I sit in a web development chat room with about 18 other developers(we are all close friends online from around europe and the world and talk in a chatroom 24/7 so we stay 'ahead' of the curve); freelancers, internet marketing business owners, uni students doing web technologies and some graphics/3d people too. Nearly all of them create websites in some form, for clients, themselves etc and none of them have utilized HTML5 and CSS3. Yes we have all looked at it and shown off ideas that are yet to be broadcast on the net(thats why we all idle/chat together), keeps us on our toes.

Now without us guys who i mention above and probably a lot of readers of MTT, things would not get pushed forward and we would see NO HTML5 sites.... The thing is those who it is down to are not doing anything about it. We are not using it so expect to wait a few more years yet before anyone at any level takes their head out their ass and does something about it!

I love how it is easier, cross platform, backward compatible technology that is expanding something i already know a lot about. I hate that the other skills that web developers are learning; js, java, css, php, mysql, .net, asp, content management systems etc etc. Are slowing us down with other things, so even the simple move forward with HTML5 is still a long way away! =[

/me waves hello to :D

May 25 | Unregistered CommenterMartinT

Your also talking about phones being left behind in the flash world..... Well its miles ahead in the CSS3 department compared to desktops and laptops..

May 25 | Unregistered CommenterMartinT

@scottandrew I'm sure that is 100% true, since those widgets are fairly lightweight, but I have yet to see anything similar made with HTML5....have you? I'd love to check it out.

As far as full-featured widgets, I have not, but all the pieces are there, waiting for someone to snap them together. Actually, I think the Pandora site could also be very easily recreated in HTML5 -- I don't see anything there that would require Flash.

People interested in HTML5 would do well to monitor sites like HTML5 Watch to see what's possible. There is a LOT of activity in the webdev space regarding HTML5. Ignore it at your peril.

I recreated the Flash audio player used on my website in HTML5 and JavaScript in about two hours. It only works in Safari and Chrome of course, but the important point is this: I created it in two hours, for no money. I didn't have to hire a Flash developer or pay $700 for a copy of Flash Professional CS5. I didn't have to learn ActionScript. It works on the iPad and delivers the same experience as the Flash version.

Really, outside of the Apple ecosystem, the only sticking point with HTML5 is browser support. The MSIE team claims they will support HTML5 in IE9, which remains to be seen. I think they probably will, as they've never loved Flash and have been willing to weaken it in the past (see: Eolas patent issues and Silverlight).

With Firefox, the main blockage comes from patent and license issues -- FF cannot support the MP3 format as of yet.

All that said, the only way to have a Flash-like website experience on the iPad today is to use HTML5.

May 25 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

I'm a musician, band manager, hardcore web developer by job. I've been saying for a long time, that Flash has to go. It's overloaded piece of crap. It's misused most of the time and can be avoided. I don't miss it, I have it blocked in Firefox with Flash block plugin and I agree with Steve Jobs. In fact, the public Flash demo for Android had failed twice on stage in frond of a huge audience. How is that for "stable" application? Flash is the main cause for so much bugs. It also uses those weird Flash cookies that never expire and pile up on your system tracking your every move.

May 25 | Unregistered CommenterRoman

Just a couple notes. I saw a while ago that in smartphone sales Blackberry still has almost half the market with iPhone near 25% & Droids near 20%. I haven't verified those numbers.

Why does Apple really want to block flash on their phones? To make money selling apps. Nothing to do with thinking Flash is bad. Apple aren't good guy underdogs. They're a business. They want the monopoly status IBM had in the early 1980s, but have been unsuccessful at acquiring it.

When I recently re-designed my site to be a little bit fancier, getting it to look the same in the main browsers was a pretty big headache. I think this is why Flash ends up over-used. If your site is Flash people get the same experience, which doesn't always happen otherwise.


You're right, HTML5 will *never* be able to do all of the cool visualizations Flash can do. In fact, this page doesn't even exist. It's a figment of my imagination:


Flash runs like a stuck pig on Mac and Linux. That might not bother a Windows user, but let's face it... the creative class is largely happy on their 27" iMacs.

Good design is hard on any platform. There's a lot of folks out there that don't put in the effort before declaring something too hard. The good news is that as IE continues to fade away, the rest of the browser world actually feels pretty coherent.

May 27 | Unregistered CommenterPete Forde

" If your site is Flash people get the same experience, which doesn't always happen otherwise."

Very good point. When I come across a Flash site, I move on to something else pretty much 100% of the time...a very consistent UX.

You missed the most important part.

You can not secure your music with HTML5. Any site that delivers music via HTML, anyone can download very easily.... Flash based services can secure the music stream, making it close to impossible to steal.

May 29 | Unregistered CommenterRob Shelby


Anything that can be played through speakers can be easily stolen.

And, who worries about people stealing music? If you are worried about people stealing your songs, then 1) you don't realize how easy it is to obtain music via file sharing (which nobody has been able to stop); 2) nobody bothers to steal music from unknown or un-popular artists; and 3) depending on the genre, millions upon millions of people don't bother stealing music. It's really should be a non-issue for most artists.

Thanks for making that point for me, Bruce. I posted this article on Reddit a few days back...and some comments were made over there as guy was talking about DRM music, if anyone's interested, here's the link: click here

One could argue that Flash provides the ultimate music security -- it prevents most iTunes users from even hearing your music in the first place...

May 31 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

As a person who has been developing web based software for about 6 years. I'd like to take this opportunity to weigh in. As soon as microsoft fully supports the html5 standard, there will be no great reason to use flash. It will take a while before all of the useful developer tools for flash can be re-written for html5 instead.

That said, it is my prediction that flash will only be around as long as there is no good IDE for html5 developers. If you follow Moore's law then there is no way I would expect flash to last 10 years. I give 1-2 years before flash and html5 have equal share and then 1 more year for flash to be an almost totally obsolete technology. So it's my prediction that in 3 years flash will be almost non-existent.

Flash is there to fill a hole, no web developer worth their weight in shit wants to develop using flash. They are simply using it cause there is no other alternative.

There is one other reason flash will be a thing of the past. The new gatekeepers (mobile device software manufacturers) don't want to support it. So much of web browsing is going to move from the desk to the pocket and flash simply sucks on these types of devices. It doesn't scale well (width + height), it hogs the processor and it crashes more than it should.

June 10 | Unregistered Commenterjeff

Thank you for the thoughtful review. The main advantage of youtube html5 playerseems to be for embedding rich media such as audio and video in modern browsers. Although, the structure elements seem to be useful. CSS3 seems to be headed in the right direction, leaving many possibilities for implementation and creativity.

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