Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Google, it’s a bit late to pull this crap.

So Google just announced that they are dumping h.264 HTML5 <video> support in Chrome. Apparently they want you to believe this is the just another step towards that daisy-fresh “100% open” utopia of the future. Hell, they may actually be blind enough to believe it themselves. They have decided to put their weight behind their own WebM codec with the hopes of it becoming relevant, but in reality this move will probably do very little to help. What it’s going to do instead is throw a wrench in the creation of the HTML5 <video> standard, and it’s going to throw a lifeline to Flash. The first consequence benefits no one, but the second benefits Google by keeping a key differentiating feature between iOS and Android relevant in the eyes of consumers.

Unfortunately for Google, none of this matters. It’s simply too late in the game to change course. Apple has over 100 million iOS devices in the wild, and regardless of a HTML5 <video> standard, Apple is going to support h.264 <video> (as will Microsoft), which means web developers are going to support h.264 <video>. Not to mention the fact that WebM doesn’t support hardware decoding—something critical in the mobile web space (where HTML5 <video> is most relevant). Even if WebM does gain hardware decoding, nobody but Google is going to waste their money encoding and hosting two versions of the same video. Why? Because Flash supports h.264 so users can be served the exact same h.264 content, albeit unnecessarily wrapped in a Flash container. Way to shoot yourself, and your users in the foot Google.