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Dec 16, 2010 9:53 PM, By Jan Ozer

What happened in 2010 and a preview of what you should be thinking about in 2011.


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Apple iPad

The Flash-less Apple iPad focused attention on HTML5.

The biggest bang of the year came with Apple's January introduction of the iPad, with a 1024x768 screen ideal for web surfing and video playback—as long as the website didn't rely on the Flash Player, which the iPad didn't (and still doesn't) support. Of course, neither did the iPhone or iPod touch, but with their smallish screens, they were best suited for primarily text only screens and full screen video playback, rather than video in a browser window.

In a lengthy manifesto, company president Steve Jobs attributed Apple's decision not to support Flash to poor "reliability, security, and performance," and a preference for open standards like HTML5. This spawned an incredible surge of interest in HTML5, and a spate of new HTML5-related products and services. Suddenly, HTML5 morphed from backwater technology to front of mind, with several high-profile technology magazines asking whether the iPad "killed Flash."

Thus, the introduction of the iPad and the Jobs manifesto raised three critical streaming-related questions: Should companies support the iPad via HTML5, was Flash a dying technology, and should companies convert their current media playback platform—whether Flash, Silverlight, Windows Media, or other—to HTML5?

HTML5 rises

HTML5 is a sweeping new technology, but Apple's announcement created a laser focus on one feature: the video tag. That is, instead of calling an external player like the Flash Player to play a video file, a single line of HTML code calls the browser's own player to play back the file. The only catch is that in order for the browser to play the file, it must have internal support for the codec—or compression technology—used to encode the file.

In this regard, at the start of the year, HTML5-compatible browser vendors were in two basic camps. Mozilla Firefox and the Opera browser supported a codec called Ogg Theora. Apple Safari supported H.264, as do all iOS devices like the iPad/iPod/iPod touch. Microsoft announced plans to support H.264 via HTML5 with Internet Explorer 9, the first HTML5-compatible version of the company's browser, which is scheduled to ship in 2011. Google Chrome supported both Ogg Theora and H.264.

Why don't Firefox and Opera support H.264? Because it's not open source, and because it comes with a $5 million price tag. Interestingly, though Microsoft and Apple have to pay the same fee, it's a per-year, per-enterprise maximum, and both companies were likely at the maximum for other products that use H.264 and were also subject to a royalty obligation—Microsoft for the Silverlight player, and Apple for iDevices and QuickTime. So integrating H.264 into the respective browsers likely cost Microsoft and Apple no additional royalties. Though Google doesn't appear to be in the same situation, $5 million is a rounding error for Google, but a very substantial sum for Mozilla and Opera.

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