Think Outside the Computer: Touchscreens, HTML5, & Flash


Touchscreens are here to stay. Computers as we know them are gone already. Really. It’s time to fast-track the planning for delivering docs and content to these types of devices.

Forget a laptop or netbook. I have a computer I can fit in a pocket. That would be my iPhone. I look at it as a computer that happens to make phone calls. I can be gone for the day and know that I can check e-mail, Twitter, and get in to my blog if need be. All from my phone. The touchscreen and ability to zoom in and enlarge content is a crucial component. Now along comes the iPad. A larger touchscreen.

Trouble is, I think that docs and e-Learning materials may not be able to switch to that format easily. Sure, you can open a website and docs and navigate through them on a touchscreen. But can you run a Flash-based tutorial on one? Given articles I’ve been reading, I’m not sure that’s the case. Do your docs rely much on mouse activity and clicking? If so, they may not work on touchscreens.

I think that this is a major issue that tech writers and eLearning specialists need to address. Some thoughts, suggestions, and references follow.

Keep Up with HTML5

This is key. Absolutely. Key. Here are some ways to do so:

Follow Developments

– W3C: they frequently publish updates to developments in the working groups. One particularly helpful doc to follow is this: HTML5 Differences from HTML4

– Twitter feeds: there are numerous feeds that focus on this topic. Check my HTML feed list on my Twitter account.

– Twitter: check the #html5 hashtag anytime and you’ll find something.

– Alltop: as expected, they already have a page for HTML5

Test on iPhones and iPads
Lucky for us, there’s a site that shows what your content will look like on an iPad. Here, via a tweet by @WritingTechDocs, is a way to check it:

” @WritingTechDocs HOW TO: See how your Website looks on #iPad…click and type your URL at the top.”

If you have one already, I guess you can just start testing. (And have fun doing so, I would imagine.)

Start Incorporating this Type of Delivery into Doc and Content Strategies

It’s time. This must be addressed and planned for. What will happen to all the tutorials you’ve created that are Flash-based? Will they be usable on these platforms? What other options are there? Videos are what come to mind at the moment. I’d ramp that up, or at least explore it more.

Content management only gets more complex by the day. This is one more, albeit important, type of delivery for which to plan.

Touchscreens are Not a Fad

Just looking at iPads alone, there are several telling statistics:

1 million were sold within the first 28 days of being on the market

There are already 4,870 apps in existence

For iPhones, there are undoubtedly more apps than can be counted. Numbers will only increase.

My question to you: are you developing an iPhone or iPad app to use for your docs, or finding one that you could use? Perhaps you should be. I think I’ll peruse the store and see what’s out there. I wonder….

Touchscreens Work Differently

From what I can discern, the main difference is that mouse actions don’t work on a touchscreen. Mouseovers, clicks, right-clicks, menu drop-downs – many items. For details, read the following articles and posts.

An Adobe Flash Developer on Why the iPad Can’t Use Flash

Redesigning the Web for Touch Screens

Thoughts on Flash, by Steve Jobs

Apple Didn’t Kill Flash, HTML5 Did

HTML5 Knocks Out Adobe Flash in Reader Vote

Scribd CTO: “We Are Scrapping Flash and Betting the Company on HTML5”


This is major, and something that cannot be ignored. Your users will be working with touchscreens, so it’s imperative to start planning your docs around them. I’ll keep posting tweets about these subjects when I see them. I think it’s exciting, and can’t wait to see what develops.

A related post o’ mine: Might We Become Walking Computers?