I have been involved with Adobe Flash for over a decade. At one point about 7 years ago everything I built for the web was in Flash. In this time I’ve watched Flash shape change in its entirety from a simple animation tool for designers (Flash 2), to a robust programming language for developers (Flash CS3 and later versions). All the while it managed to maintain all previous facets of itself. It was everything to everyone and the thing to have a website that was made out of Flash.
However by the end of 2008 Flash Player could be found on about 99% of PCs Worldwide per statistics from Adobe. If you had a cool Flash site, most people could see it. Hip and slick flash websites were all the rage and developers were flocking towards the Flash environment.
Flash CS4 launched that year and incorporated a new and more robust Media Encoder, which meant that most formats of video could now be streamed though Flash too (So AVI, DV, MPG, MOV files could all now be turned into FLV flash video). This made Flash video the premiere and most widely used movie playing software on the web.
Adobe had also in 2006 launched the new, super sleek version of its programming language, Action Script 3.0. This object orientated programming language was something Flash programmers and developers had been needing for years. So now Flash could also be used to program fabulously funky, fully functioning shopping carts .
Flash had done it again, it had morphed to become what was dreamed of it.
So why are we now starting to seeing the death of Flash on the web?
There are 2 major contributing factors:
1.The SEO drawbacks have never been overcome. As the output of Flash is a movie, its very difficult for search robots (such as googlebot) to accurately read and distinguish flash content online. It is true the method of deep linking using swf address has somewhat helped in this area; but the fact remains that all other things being equal, a code based site will out-perform a flash site in search results.
2.The rise of the mobile devices. The refusal of the Apple organization to support Flash on its devices has been much discussed, and the fundamental reasons are well understood. See Steve Jobs’ 2010 article on the topic. However the underlying truth is that Flash excelled in the era of the PC and the mouse. It is far less ideal for use on mobile devices in terms of resources and interactivity with touch screen as opposed to mouse. This is true despite Android’s recent Flash support initiatives.
And I for one am not going to sit back and wait on the day when Apple will ever support Flash Player on its devices.
I my self have noticed a drastic drop in demand for flash websites or apps recently. In this case we judge its only a matter of time before the general public accepts the realities as our community sees them.
Indeed it would appear to this me at least that Adobe, with the release of Edge for HTML5 authoring, is reaching similar conclusions. I can just hope that Edge will evolve as beautifully as Flash did or better.
RIP Flash websites, I’ll miss you.
So what will replace Flash use on websites and how will this change the Web?
There is very little doubt that a large proportion of web interactivity in the near future will be driven through HTML5. Audio and video files for example can now be easily implemented through the language by simple tags.
The great open source language PHP will continue to feature heavily in dynamic web development initiatives. As for established open source content management frameworks, WordPress looks set to continue in its meteoric usage rise.
We expect to see a lot more 3D file integration in websites soon. The intelligently applied use of After Effects and Cinema 4D will bring a very fresh look to websites. As downstream bandwidth rates rise exponentially the barriers to running 3D applications will disappear.
But none of the above can do great animated interactivity as brilliantly as Flash.
Therefore there is nothing to totally replace Flash, but there are enough other cleaner elements out there that maybe this doesn’t matter anymore. We have all gotten over our amazement that the web exists at all, and we no longer need to watch a slick interactive flash animation to bedazzle ourselves. Now we primarily want information quickly from the “information super high way”. Information, research, entertainment though video or music, shopping and paying bills are all items we want from our time spent online.
As for Flash itself, it has always exhibited masterful ability for adaptation. Right now it is being heavily used in online gaming. The millions of sites incorporating Flash are unlikely to disappear overnight, but they will disappear over time as the world wide web continues to adapt to our needs.
So while the future of flash in website development is fading, it may well carve itself a new alternative path forward.
The opinions in the article are exactly that, opinions.