Flash is No Longer Necessary?

By The Portland Egotist / /

 

Written by Joe Mease

As a developer, specializing in Flash development, the debate is of great interest to me, and as you can probably guess, I am not all that thrilled with the stance that Apple is taking. I have a hard time understanding why Jobs is so adverse to Flash, if nothing more than the fact that omitting Flash from the iPad, and iPhone, is omitting any and all profits that could be made from the sale of Flash built apps being sold through the iTunes store.

Let me first mention that I am by no means against abandoning one technology, for a superior technology. My livelihood depends on my ability to maintain my edge, and not become a dinosaur. When Flash introduced AS3.0, I made it a priority to abandon AS2.0, and learn my way around the overhauled language so that I could develop faster, lighter, more powerful, and ultimately better products. If something other than Flash gives me the power to do all I can in Flash, and more, I will be all over it.

While Jobs makes several of his opinions come off as though they are facts in his letter, the one I find most outrageous is that thanks to HTML 5, “Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content.”

Who is Jobs to tell us what is necessary and what is not. Was James Cameron’s Avatar in 3D necessary? Is an Aston Martin necessary? Is a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label necessary? All online content should serve a purpose – sometimes that purpose is to get the right information quickly and without a lot of fluff (which is usually true for mobile devices with small screens), and other times that purpose might be to get a 15-year-old boy excited about the soon-to-be-released installment of Call of Duty for their Playstation or XBOX 360. And just like any tool, Flash, HTML 5, Objective C, PHP, or AJAX… you need to select the proper tool for the job.

I’ll be honest, I am not an expert on HTML 5… yet, but from what I have seen, it is impressive, and shows a great deal of potential, and is ultimately a step in the right direction.The only problem is, since HTML 5 is not plug-in based, if your browser does not support HTML 5, you are out of luck. I know that most of us in the design and development industry are savvy enough to install and run the latest technology, especially when it comes to browsers, but sadly we are the exception, not the norm.

Macromedia, and now Adobe, have worked hard over the years to make upgrading one’s Flash player a simple, smooth, and painless experience for even the most novice of users. This is one of the reasons Flash has become so successful over the years. Not only being able to tell your clients that what you are about to build for them will be viewable by over 98% of the population, but also allowing us developers to spend more time developing content, rather than fussing around with browser compatibility issues.

If HTML 5 can help make H.264 encoded video the standard, I have no real problem with that, but when it comes to the demand for rich, engaging, brand driven content and interaction, I just don’t see how HTML 5 can compete with Flash at this time. And by the time HTML 5 becomes any sort of realistic standard, with enough browser support for us to start responsibly pushing HTML 5 upon our clients (which I estimate is still 3 to 5 years out), I expect advances in what Flash can do, will make HTML feel severely outdated.

The simple truth is that player based technology, proprietary or not, is not only a great way to develop once, and run anywhere, but it is also the best way to minimize the span of time between when the latest technology becomes available, and when the latest technology is accepted as a standard.

If Flash is really so lousy, Apple should trust that the market would naturally weed it out, rather than playing the Big Brother role, and restricting it from their devices. If the claim that Flash content chews through battery life on mobile devices, people can choose not to install those apps if they don’t feel the sacrifice is worth it. If Flash content experienced through multi-touch yields a subpar experience, again… let people choose to not run those apps in favor of ones that do.

In the end, it’s not Flash, or any other language/platform that is to blame for bulky content, or lousy experiences, it’s the development community. Depending on the skill of the developer, any program, written in any language, can be well written and highly optimized, or it can be sluggish, full of memory leaks, and prone to cause a system crash.

Like myself, there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of Flash developers who have spent the last 3, 5, or 10 years refining their craft when it comes to using Flash to create anything from non-interactive animations, banner ads (which help keep much of the online content free, by the way), embedded components, micro-sites, custom video players, touch-screen kiosks, games, etc. And I’m guessing most of us would like to start applying that experience to building iPhone/iPad apps, which could be sold via iTunes to the benefit of Apple’s bottom-line – but thanks to Apple and Steve Jobs, that reality was snatched from us in a spiteful and vindictive fashion that proves there is more at play than Apple wanting to “provide the most advanced and innovative platform…”

Regardless, the fact remains that there are still billions of dollars worth of web content that has been developed, and will continue to be developed via Flash, and the thought that businesses around the globe have the desire and or budget to scrap these sites and components, and rebuild it so that nominal iPad community can consume the content is simply unrealistic. This coupled with the lack of USB port or SD slot, means the device is effectively hobbled as a serious consideration for a laptop replacement. And as Google and others begin releasing their tablets to the market, without such restrictions, it will be hard for those of us who don’t worship at the altar of Apple to justify the purchase of a device as restrictive and limiting as the iPad.

Apple is an impressive organization that has done so much to help define and refine the user experience, and for that I commend them. I personally love my iPod, and my iPhone, thanks to their sleek and compact design, the ease of use, and the utility they provide on a daily basis. But more and more lately, Apple is starting to evolve into everything they hated about Microsoft twenty years ago. I also expect that the 10 years from now, we will probably look back on the recent letter from Steve Jobs and chuckle just a little, just like when we look back on the quote from Bill Gates, from 1981, where he made the claim that “640K ought to be enough for anybody.”

Joe Mease is a Denver-based designer and developer, specializing in building heavily branded, dynamic, user-centric applications using Adobe Flash. Joe has been a respected member of the Flash development community for over 10 years. Find his work at joemeasecreative.com.

Originally posted on The Denver Egotist

  1. Warren January 28, 2011

    "If Flash is really so lousy, Apple should trust that the market would naturally weed it out, rather than playing the Big Brother role, and restricting it from their devices." The thought occurs that this the market beginning to weed Flash out. If mobile users think Flash is important enough to have in their palmtop or tabled devices, you can be sure they'll switch to Android (or possibly WebOS) in droves.