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Flash flushed: Google's AdWords to convert ads to HTML5 automatically

You want your ads to show up on mobes, don't you?

By Neil McAllister, 26 Feb 2015

In the latest blow to Adobe's little-loved Flash graphics format, Google has begun nudging customers of its AdWords ad network to wean themselves off Flash by offering automatic conversion of Flash ads to HTML5.

"Over half of time spent online is now spent on mobile devices," the Google Ads team said in a Google+ post on Wednesday. "This presents a tremendous opportunity for marketers to reach their customers throughout the day, whenever they may be browsing. But there is an all-too-common barrier: many mobile devices and some browsers do not currently support Flash."

To be specific, Adobe hasn't made a Flash Player plugin for Android devices since 2012. And Apple's Safari browser for iOS devices has never supported the format, with Steve Jobs notoriously having described Flash as "buggy" and its coders at Adobe as "lazy."

Google's ad converter is based on Swiffy, its homegrown tool that converts SWF files to a mix of HTML5, JavaScript, and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) images that can be rendered in browsers without a plugin.

As Google's image ads FAQ explains, not every Flash file can be converted to HTML5, but anything that converts properly using the Swiffy online tool will be compatible with the AdWords converter, since they're based on the same code.

Google has offered optional Swiffy conversion for ads since September. Going forward, however, compatible ads will automatically be converted when they're uploaded to AdWords – although advertisers won't necessarily know the conversion has happened.

Google says advertisers who are curious whether their ads have been converted should sort their AdWords traffic reports by device type. If they see hits from mobile devices that wouldn't ordinarily be able to display Flash content, they'll know their ads have been given the switcheroo.

Longer-term, of course, advertisers are free to upload ads in HTML5 format themselves. Google also offers a Swiffy plugin for Adobe Flash Professional, allowing designers to export their graphics as HTML5 and skip the vulnerability-prone SWF format altogether. ®

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