The iPhone 4 may be beloved by Apple fans, but its HTML5 is painfully slow, slower than Android HTML5 and far slower than Android's Flash 10.1, according to a recent benchmark.  (Source: Nick Ut/AP)

The iPod Touch 4G/iPhone 4 had trouble reliably rendering a bouncing ball in a simple test.  (Source: Chris Black/YouTube)
iPhone 4's HTML5 looks pathetic versus Android, even worse against Flash 10.1

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has committed to a long and vocal war against the internet multimedia platform Flash.  Mr. Jobs has banished Flash from his iDevices, contending that Flash kills battery life and delivers inferior performance.

A recent benchmark (video, text) by web developer Chris Black shows that quite the opposite might be true.  Mr. Black benchmarked the iPhone 4 running iOS 4.1 and Google's defunct Nexus One running Android 2.2 "Froyo".

What he found was that on the iPod Touch 4G (roughly identical hardware to the iPhone 4 sans 3G modem), a simple HTML5 canvas of a ball bouncing on a paddle rendered at a choppy 22 fps in Apple Mobile Safari browser.  What's worse, the animation stopped entirely when zooming out or in.

By contrast the Nexus One averaged around 40 fps when using HTML5 in its built-in Chrome-derivative browser.  The animation felt slightly sluggish, but was tolerable.  And zooming out and in no longer stopped the animation.

Finally, Mr. Black tested Flash 10.1 running on Nexus One (in-browser).  The results were a silky-smooth 57 fps, near the target of 60 fps.  What's more, after running the test for 10 minutes, the Flash animation consumed only half the battery that running the equivalent HTML5 animation did.

Mr. Black's overall conclusions are straightforward -- on Android phones HTML5 is a tough sell versus Flash 10.1, given the battery performance and slightly slower framerates.  And on the iPhone 4 it goes from okay to downright pathetic.  He concludes:
Keep in mind Flash Player 10.1 is relatively new. If Flash had been included with the original iPhone, you would have hated it. The new version, however, kicks ass. Would love to see some hacked iPhone Flash benchmarks to fill in the missing pieces on the above graph. If the iOS can’t render a little ball, HTML5 is going to be a hard sell for iDevices.
Mr. Black reminds us that Adobe Air, coming soon to Android as well, should deliver even superior battery life for Flash-driven apps, like games.

If Mr. Black's tests are a fair representation, there's not much "magical" about the iPhone 4's HTML5.  That does still leave Mr. Jobs with one valid complaint, though, that it's a closed, proprietary standard.  However, Apple's implementation of HTML5 uses a number of proprietary parts, including the H.264 video codec.

It's important to bear in mind that this is only one benchmark.  Mr. Black has been very open about his test code and testing procedures, but there are flaws in any benchmarks.  Hopefully this topic is further studied to determine whether Apple's HTML5 performance is as bad at this test paints it to be.

Update: Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010 9:10 p.m.--

As some have pointed out, the iPod Touch 4G, on which tests were performed only had 256 MB of RAM.  So is HTML5 hitting a memory ceiling?  That remains to be seen.  Hopefully follow-up tests on the iPhone 4 will be performed to further test this possibility. 

Also it should be noted that on the Nexus One Flash beats HTML5 in batter life and performance -- so assuming it was a fair test, it appears that Flash would have the lead on either platform.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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