After some recent interaction with Adobe, it’s clear they have some ideas about the future of their Flash and Adobe Air technology. And in some ways, it’s back to the future for them. How this affects websites that use Flash is significant if you as a site owner intend to support those that visit your site. It’s time for Flash to go.
A quick look into the wayback machine is in order: When we began using Flash in the mid-1990s, it was a terrific way to animate elements to create short cartoons, marketing messages, and ads. It quickly evolved into a bit of an animation system, but then shifted towards the web.
Websites developed in Flash highlighted quality imagery and presentations. In the days of dial up modems, a Flash site presented high resolution, smooth (relatively) motion, and a quality that presented the website owner as an entity invested in reaching their audience with the best possible visible message.
Flash became entrenched in the world of the web at that point. Even for sites that were built using traditional methods, Flash was used for ads, and once YouTube (and Flash codecs) arrived, video. The huge surge in video created an equally large surge in the use of Flash. Web browsers were updated to support it. Computers were upgraded to enjoy it.
There were problems with Flash all through its existence – notably memory leaks that would eventually cause a web browser or PC to crash. NOTE: questioned posed on Adobe’s support forum regarding PCs that crash with Flash remain unanswered after more than two years.
The fix for a crashing site was simple – restart the box or relaunch the browser, so the main issue with Flash was more of an annoyance than a significant problem. Adobe worked diligently to upgrade Flash and did so often. Still, crashing continued, and as its popularity increased, security flaws became more relevant as malcontents would find ways to break into sites and servers hosting Flash thru its published security issues.
I don’t think the arrival of the Apple iPad signaled the turning point in the popularity and use of Flash, but it helped raise awareness of alternative and more modern technologies. Even with many modern browsers in smart phones and tablets, more people began to arrive at websites with blank spaces or red blocks where Flash elements had been.
With the rapid explosion of HTML-5 and other technologies, Flash has become a hindrance rather than a benefit for a website. It’s a mobile world today. And while there are developers who love Flash and swear by it, the fact remains that the public wants and deserves a quality experience when visiting a website. If you want a truly engaging web experience that serves the widest possible audience, Flash is done as a web technology.
In November of 2011, Adobe announced that its support for Flash Player on mobile browsers would end. And while no such announcement has been made relative to the desktop, it has already effectively occurred.
Make no mistake, Adobe Flash is powerful stuff: Stage 3D accelerated graphics rendering, 64-bit support, multi-threaded video decoding and the ability to interact with multiple tracking devices is both important and useful. But it’s not enough or perhaps the right tool for creating website content.
The renewed interest in Flash is oriented towards applications. Adobe is refocusing on the opportunities Flash presented in its earliest days, but with some new ideas thrown in. Adobe Air gives a developer the opportunity to use web authoring and to wrap the code into a runtime (application wrapper) that will play the content as an application – not in a web browser. A developer can then create content once, and deliver it to both desktop and mobile devices.
Adobe has also indicated that as it refocuses on applications, many of those apps will be entertainment oriented (read that as games). To ensure a revenue channel, Adobe has created a multiple tiered set of capabilities within Flash/Air, and if you use them (3D, GPU rendering, etc.), you’ll begin paying Adobe a royalty of 9% on all net sales over $50,000 in August of 2012.
So, it’s time for Flash to go from websites everywhere. But don’t be fooled into thinking that you can simply replace Flash content with HTML-5 content. Not so. HTML-5 is a huge step forward in web technology. It is not a direct replacement for Flash. The opportunity for entities that have used Flash for a long time is to redesign their website to fit into the mobile world. Evolve. That may be the best gift Adobe could give the web world. The chance to make websites look better than ever before. How ironic that doing so will eliminate the technology that made the web look good in the first place.