Can Flash Reclaim its Throne as King of The Web?

I remember shortly after I decided to pursue a career in designing applications over a decade ago, a developer friend said to me, “You should learn Flash.” He described Flash to me in a way that made it seem like the most powerful technology associated with the Internet. I was in awe. So began my journey with this amazing tool. I have built websites and robust web applications using Flash, and through this amazing technology I have been able to explore creative expression on the web in some radical ways. In 2008, I worked with the incredibly talented folks at Varywell to create a full-browser Flash web app called DebateHall that required a rich feature set that Open Standards may or may not be able to replicate today. At the time, Open Standards had not produced a web app that included complex features to manipulate video across the UI (rather than from within a Flash embed on an HTML page), so in 2008 Flash was the obvious choice for our truly groundbreaking application design. Fast forward to today and mention the word Flash in a creative meeting and tumble weeds will start rolling across the meeting table.

Rob Ford just released an article entitled 10 Reasons Why Flash Cannot Die. It’s a well written, passionate piece that makes some great points regarding Flash that have been previously drowned out by Apple hysteria over the past few years. Rob references some phenomenal Flash projects as reasons Flash “cannot die”, and these sites definitely demonstrate why Flash, in Rob’s words, “transformed the Web” from 1997-2010. He further asserts that Open Standards apps have performance issues on mobile devices and incur longer-than-normal load times, which was a main gripe with Flash on mobile devices. So it appears Flash may not be as bad as Jobs effectively made it out to be, which was also a politically correct way to prevent developers from side-stepping the Apple App Store (and native apps). I felt that business goals, more so than performance issues, were at play in Jobs’ end game. I love native apps, but I also love Flash. In reading Rob Ford’s article on the FWA, I thought of a few additional reasons Flash will not die:

  1. Flash→AIR→iOS/Android. Flash is a phenomenal authoring tool and AIR apps with native extensions empower you to push apps to iOS and Android. I prefer native as a long term solution for serious software, but depending on your situation, Flash/AIR could be a viable option.
  2. Flash→AIR→Touch/Kiosk. Flash is a strong option for offline applications with a more focused intent, such as large touch displays and kiosks.
  3. Fallback Content. There’s no reason to remove Flash content from Web pages simply because it will not work in mobile Safari. Media queries and fallback content can button things up nicely. If users can display Flash content and it gives them the best experience, use Flash. If they can’t display Flash content, show them your back up plan.
  4. Ubiquity. Flash reaches too far and wide (1 billion PCs) to just disappear simply because a billionaire genius technologist says it’s not right for his company’s mobile devices.
  5. Adobe Systems. While there are some nifty new UI design applications out there like Webflow and Sketch, Adobe does a great job at equipping creatives with Creative Cloud. One little caveat here, beyond the recent security breach, and that’s the drastic changes made to the Path Selection and Direct Selection tools in Photoshop CC. I uninstalled it and reinstalled Photoshop CS6 in order to avoiding having to relearn two of the most important tools Photoshop provides for UI design work flow. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  6. Flash Faithful. Clearly, there are talented people who continue to push the boundaries of creative expression using Flash, and I doubt this will ever change.

Personally, I think Flash will survive but it will have great competition from Open Standards and Unity3D in the years ahead. When I was head deep in Flash, it was all I cared about, and during those years I stood on solid ground in feeling that Flash set the bar for the best online experiences. Ultimately, Adobe must still continue to innovate with Flash to compete and keep it relevant. Who knows, perhaps Rob Ford is right, and Flash is just waiting to let Open Standards fall short and then deliver a death blow. Wouldn’t that be interesting.

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