Flash isn’t dead. Adobe is continuing development of the Flash Player as well as Flex for desktop web browsers. Adobe’s recent announcement about abandoning development for the Flash Player for mobile web browsers has created a lot of confusion. Unfortunately this confusion will probably push people away from Flash faster than would have happened, or should have happened, had the announcement been handled correctly.
I’m feeling personal sadness with the Adobe’s mishandling of the announcement, as Flash deserves an elegant path through the future, whatever that future may be. It was my classmate at Harvey Mudd College ’89, Jonathan Gay, who invented Flash. Jon wrote the application SmartSketch which was published by FutureWave Software, founded by Jon and Charlie Jackson. The product eventually evolved into FutureSplash Animator. In 1996, FutureSplash was acquired by Macromedia and released as Flash. Flash was acquired by Adobe Systems in 2005 when they purchased Macromedia. [Historical references excerpted from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_Flash]
Jon is a wonderful and brilliant person (he put himself through Harvey Mudd College in part by programming Dark Castle – remember that one? Yeah, that was Jon too). I would argue that Flash was an incredibly innovating influence on the World Wide Web and has touched nearly everyone who uses the web. As a browser plugin, I’ll bet it has been the most widely adopted plugin in history and may retain that title for some time. Flash provided a stable solution to cross-browser problems when those were the biggest problems facing website designers and developers. Useful, powerful, and innovative, Flash is a tremendous achievement. Flash and Jon deserve tremendous respect.
So what’s really going on with Adobe and Flash? Mike Chambers of Adobe wrote a clarifying blog post to answer that question: Clarifications on Flash Player for Mobile Browsers, the Flash Platform, and the Future of Flash.
My summary of Mike’s blog post:
– Adobe is discontinuing development of the Flash Player for mobile web browsers only
– Flash will continue to fix bugs and support existing versions of the Flash Player for mobile browsers
– Adobe is continuing development of the Flash Platform for desktop web browsers
– Adobe AIR will continue to play a central role in mobile app development
– Adobe Flex will continue to exist and be developed for the indefinite future, but in a different environment
Without a doubt Adobe should have framed things much differently. Perhaps Adobe could have written a manifesto describing where they saw the future of the web going and exactly how their products would fit into that future. HTML5 has a major place in the future of the web, and Adobe is adapting to that reality in very effective and realistic ways.
Flash is incredibly powerful and capable. There really isn’t anything else out there that can do all Flash can do. HTML5 and CSS3 are several years away from “replacing” Flash. Those newer technologies can handle some of the simple things Flash has been able to do for more than a decade, but they are no where near the whole package yet. We’re in a transition period between the Flash era and the dominance of HTML5. As a web developer I’m extremely excited about HTML5, CSS3, and Responsive Web Design. We are working in those technologies every day. The future is very bright. I’m just sad that a leader like Adobe stubbed it’s toe and is now bleeding on the map that shows the path from Flash to HTML5 and newer technologies.
Mike Chambers’ post is a bandaid intended to help stop the bleeding. Though it’s long, it’s well written and explains Adobe’s position fairly clearly. Below are some key excerpts, the full article can be found here.
Excerpts from Clarifications on Flash Player for Mobile Browsers, the Flash Platform, and the Future of Flash:
First, I want to make it very clear that we are continuing to work on Adobe AIR for mobile applications, and have seen an increasing number of successful applications created with Adobe AIR. What we are halting is further development on the Flash Player plugin for mobile browsers. We will continue to provide critical bug fixes and security updates for existing device configuration, as well as continue to distribute the current player. At the same time, we are further increasing our investment (both in resources and engineers) in HTML5. I am not going to go into too much detail on this today, but, in general, we are shifting some resources from the Flash Platform and towards HTML5.
What does this mean for the Flash Platform in General?
While there was some frustration around our dropping development of the Flash Player for mobile browsers, the main thing I saw was concern and confusion about how this would affect the Flash Platform as a whole. Were we still committed to it? Would we stop developing the Flash Player for the desktop? Is Flash really dead?
So, just to be very clear, contrary to what many have declared, Flash is not dead. It’s role and focus has shifted but we feel that it still fills important roles both on the web and mobile platforms.
We are continuing to develop Adobe AIR for both the desktop and mobile devices. Indeed, we have seen wide adoption of Adobe AIR for creating mobile applications and there have been a number of blockbuster mobile applications created using Adobe AIR. Some recent examples of applications created for mobile devices using Adobe AIR are Machinarium, Watch ESPN and my personal favorite, tweet hunt.
Flash Player for Desktop Browsers
We feel that Flash continues to play a vital role of enabling features and functionality on the web that are not otherwise possible. As such, we have a long term commitment to the Flash Player on desktops, and are actively working on the next Flash Player version.
Of course, with the growth and continued improved browser support of HTML5, the role of Flash will change. We feel that for the foreseeable future, Flash is particularly strong in delivering advanced video, as well as providing a robust, and graphically rich gaming platform. We are focusing our Flash Player efforts around these areas.
The key point is this. If a Flash feature is successful, it will eventually be integrated into the browser, and developers and users will access it more and more via the browser and not Flash.
A lot of the things that you have done via Flash in the past, will increasingly be done via HTML5 and CSS3 directly in the browser.
I am not suggesting that all Flash content should or will be done in HTML5. You have to look at each project on a case by case basis and make a decision based on development costs, target platforms and user experience. Regardless, your customers are going to ask about HTML5, and you should put yourself in a position to best meet their needs, regardless of technology or platform.
Thanks Mike for the helpful blog post about the future of Flash.