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Tuesday, March 02, 2010, 03:00 pm PT (06:00 pm ET)

Virgin America dumps Adobe Flash for iPhone users

Virgin America has dropped Flash content from its new website in order to allow users with Apple iPhones to check in for flights using their mobile.

In an interview with the Register UK, Virgin's chief technology officer Ravi Simhambhatla said, "I don't want to cater to one hardware or one software platform one way to another, and Flash eliminates iPhone users. This year is going to be the year of the mobile [for Virgin]."

The Register reported that Virgin's new Flash-free website is responsible for bringing in 70% of the company's $100 million in quarterly revenues. The airline's "crown jewels" website replaces a previous version that used Flash and was less than three years old.

iPhone launches a migration from Flash

The move illustrates the leverage Apple now exerts in being able to drive new web development to use open web standards rather than proprietary binary platforms like Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight, which exist as closed alternatives to the Web's simple HTML and JavaScript.

Apple itself dropped Flash from most of its web properties the iPhone debuted, and just before its launch, the company worked with Google to begin serving YouTube videos without requiring a Flash wrapper. Apple chief executive Steve Jobs insisted that Flash was simply not well suited for mobile devices like the new iPhone.

Google has since floated a beta version of YouTube for desktop users that drops Flash entirely and instead presents videos using the native multimedia delivery support written into HTML5, the latest specification of the Web's standard for semantically marking up content.

Virgin said it is planning to make use of new features in HTML5 as the standard is ratified. Until then, company representatives said today's HTML is "good enough" to do what the company had been using Flash to do on its previous site.

Flash vs the Web

Unlike Flash or Silverlight, which are presentational and therefore deliver a fixed view for users to experience, the Web's native HTML only describes content semantically, so users and their browser can interpret how they want to experience that information.

HTML supports flexible presentation using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), a technology that can scale Web content and complexity to accommodate the limitation of mobile devices, accessibility issues for the blind or physically impaired, or simply customize information presentation to fit the desires of Web users.

Morgan Adams, an interactive content developer with a lot of experience with Flash recently explained that most of today's existing Flash-based games, navigation elements, and other content is oriented toward mouse-centric desktop and simply can not work well in a multitouch environment like the iPhone or Apple's upcoming iPad, where there is no mouseover.

Adobe is working to push out new enhancements to Flash to accommodate touch-centric environments in new content, but developers have to weigh whether sticking with Adobe's platform makes sense now that HTML5 delivers much of the functionality of Flash without dependance upon Adobe. Apple's staunchly Flash-free mobile platforms are helping to tilt that decision in favor of open standards.