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Google is killing HTML5 to harm Apple iOS

By 13 January 2011 13 Comments

One of my explanations for Google’s decision to drop native HTML5 support for H.264 is that it is a masterful bluff to secure more favorable licensing terms for H.264, but it just occurred to me that Google’s decision effectively kills HTML5 video adoption and forces video content providers to continue using Flash as the delivery mechanism for H.264 compressed streaming video.  But why would Google which purports to be in favor of open web standards want to kill HTML5?  Simple, it kills the only means of delivering video to Apple’s iOS devices which include iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices which greatly helps Google’s Android smartphone Operating System.

Apple made the decision to not allow Adobe Flash on iOS devices because they want to retain sole control over application distribution and design with their App Store.  And since the world was starting to move to the HTML5 standard for online video delivery, Apple would be going with the flow by encouraging mass adoption of HTML5.  HTML5 would have become the universal delivery platform for video streaming with H.264 content on both Apple iOS devices, personal computers running Windows or Mac, Linux with the appropriate plugins, Android OS, and just about any other device capable of video streaming.  The current near-universal delivery platform was Adobe Flash but that was losing steam because of its inability to reach Apple iOS.

By crippling HTML5 H.264 under the guise of supporting Google’s VP8 codec (which is a nonstarter because VP8 is inferior to H.264, carries potential patent infringement liabilities, and H.264 is entrenched in billions of hardware devices while VP8 has no current support), the only remaining viable option for most content producers is to continue delivering H.264 via the Adobe Flash platform or via Microsoft Silverlight like Netflix.  Larger content providers will be able to deliver H.264 compressed video on both Flash or Silverlight for most of the world and HTML5 just for Apple iOS devices, but smaller sites won’t and Apple iOS devices will have limited access.  Google Android devices will be able to reach Flash websites like Windows or Mac Personal Computers which gives them a leg up on Apple.

Had the web been permitted to migrate to HTML5 video delivery, Apple would benefit from the increased content availability which makes them more competitive, but HTML5 as a universal video delivery platform has now effectively been derailed by Google.  Google, Adobe, and Microsoft all stand to benefit at the expense of Apple iOS.

UPDATE January 14 2011

The analysis in this blog post has been confirmed.  Google will only kill H.264 in HTML5, but continue to support H.264 in Chrome through Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight.  Can we end all the foolish speculation that Google wants to kill H.264 (even on YouTube) and replace it with WebM yet?  The following was posted on the Google Chromium blog.

Does this mean I will no longer be able to play H.264 videos in Chrome?

H.264 plays an important role in video and the vast majority of the H.264 videos on the web today are viewed in plug-ins such as Flash and Silverlight. These plug-ins are and will continue to be supported in Chrome. Our announcement was only related to the <video> tag, which is part of the emerging HTML platform. While the HTML video platform offers great promise, few sites use it today and therefore few users will be immediately impacted by this change.

Make no mistake, that last reference to “few users” is a slap across the face of Apple and their iOS users.  For Thom Holwerda at OSNews who believed that Google is going to kill off H.264 in YouTube and Chrome, this clarification from Google confirms how wrong he was.  This response to Holwerda from Eugenia Loli-Queru, a video content professional had some wonderful insights on why WebM will not succeed.  Loli-Queru explained that without any editing tools and the inferior quality and playback performance of WebM, it is a nonstarter for content producers and will continue to be that way for the foreseeable future.

MG Siegler at TechCrunch is still dreaming that Google might yank H.264 from YouTube.  Now why would they do that and give up all the iOS users, the Safari, and the Internet Explorer users?  WebM playback is inferior in quality and the video encoding/decoding performance is terrible.  No, Google will continue to support iOS on YouTube, but they know that much of the world won’t support both HTML5 and Flash and that limits the functionality of Apple iOS devices.

Make no mistake, Google is killing off the HTML5 <video> star.  Anyone doubting that Google can be this calculating and cold should ask Syabas about their experience with Google.  This whole thing has been a masterful underhanded triple play for Google.

  • The WebM strategy ensured free use of H.264 video streaming for YouTube beyond 2015, forever.
  • It saves Google $6.5 million per year by not having native H.264 support in Chrome.
  • It derails HTML5 video and slaps Apple iOS in the face which can only benefit Google Android.

13 Comments »

  • larry seltzer said:

    <consternation!><outrage!>
    Are you saying that Google was acting in their own self-interest? Is this possible?
    </outrage!></consternation!>

  • John Carroll said:

    That never occurred to me, but it makes a heck of a lot of sense.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @Larry,

    All companies look out for their own interests and survival and that’s normal. It’s just that Google likes to mask everything they do under the guise of “openness” and altruism.

    What really cracks me up to see the fringe Open Source groups falling right in line, believing that they have any kind of chance to supersede H.264 with VP8. We have billions of hardware devices with hardware H.264 decoding baked into them and for most of those devices, they don’t have the general purpose computing power to handle video decode in software.

    Content providers and content consumers don’t care if something has licensed technology so long as the value it provides is worth the cost of admission. If it means paying an extra dollar to have the best video codec in the world in a piece of hardware, they have no problem paying that dollar. Once they’ve already invested in that technology, nobody is going to convince them to use something else even if it turns out to be free, and even less inclined if it’s not certain that this alternative is free.

    But despite the lessons learned with Mozilla dropping native HTML5 H.264 support, the WebM movement still has idealogical supporters. Somehow I highly doubt that Google is being foolish here.

  • What we’re reading: 1/14/11 | High Tech Forum said:

    [...] Google is killing HTML5 to harm Apple iOS [...]

  • Tech at Night: Net Neutrality, Google, HTML 5 | RedState said:

    [...] this simply to goad Microsoft into developing its own H.264 codec plugin for Chrome, or possibly just wants to discourage the creation of iPad-friendly websites in advance of new Google Android-based [...]

  • Tech at Night: Net Neutrality, Google, HTML 5 said:

    [...] this simply to goad Microsoft into developing its own H.264 codec plugin for Chrome, or possibly just wants to discourage the creation of iPad-friendly websites in advance of new Google Android-based [...]

  • Tech at Night: Net Neutrality, Google, HTML 5 « Internet Freedom Coalition said:

    [...] this simply to goad Microsoft into developing its own H.264 codec plugin for Chrome, or possibly just wants to discourage the creation of iPad-friendly websites in advance of new Google Android-based [...]

  • bogdan said:

    is that even an approved protocol? :)
    ok, I mean, there should be some standards in this area .. if Microsoft did this they would certainly be fined by the EU commission :)

  • Johan said:

    I think this is an accurate assessment of Google’s motives.

    However, I’m pleased to see someone stand up to Apple – because Apple’s behaviour towards it’s competitors has been appalling since they’ve become the big player. Apple’s out to screw the competition in any way possible (just like Microsoft used to do when they had the power). Some company stands up to Apple by using similar tactics …. Good! Thanks goodness for Google (on this occasion).

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @Johan

    I agree that Apple is a bully towards other competitors and this is Google giving back some of that bullying. But should HTML5 be the biggest victim to the benefit of proprietary platforms like Flash and Silverlight? I’m not sure that’s a good thing in the larger scheme of things.