Monday, August 31, 2009

Flash Post Mortem

Okay, this is going to be my last word on Flash for a while. As fun as this has been, beyond this, I think that things will begin to get counterproductive and I have a lot of stuff I have to get done in the next few weeks.

I do appreciate everyone who took time to point out their perceived flaws in my argument, and to everyone who provided links and information about the Flash Platform with regards to the mobile web. Nothing I saw changed my mind about the future of Flash as a web development tool, but I feel better informed about Adobe's desperate attempts to hold onto the position they've carved out for themselves on the pre-mobile web.

Even if my predictions are completely wrong and Flash manages to survive as a dominant web development tool, it won't change my conviction that it's simply the wrong paradigm for the vast, vast majority of web development tasks. It's a fine tool for interactive presentations, kiosks, and limited cross-platform development. But for the web? It couldn't be a worse tool. Sorry. I know many of you disagree with me on this, but I've used a lot of web development tools and visited a lot of websites over the years on multiple platforms and Flash is just a back-asswards approach to web development. If Adobe changes the fundamental architecture of the platform, then I'm open to re-assessing Flash's worth, but until then, any enhancements or new features are nothing more than turd polishing. The shiniest, most jewel-encrusted turd, is still a turd.

But I'm completely unconvinced that Flash is going to survive the growth of the mobile web, at least as the dominant player it has been. Here's the thing that's missing. Adobe has created a consortium to get Flash on to "billions" of mobile devices. Who's not on that list right now? Apple and RIM, makers of Blackberry. When you look at the mobile web, either by units or packets transferred, those two have the lion's share of the market. Having a consortium to promote something on the mobile web without those two participating would be like having a consortium to develop standards for the regular web without including Microsoft. If you can't get at least one of them, and probably both, Flash is a dead end for the mobile web. That's just the political reality. Even if you can get RIM, you've still got the single largest smart phone in terms of units, packets transferred and, certainly, mindshare not participating in your "consortium". So, are companies going to want to do their sites one way for the iPhone and another for everyone else? Or are they going to start veering towards the open standards that will work on all devices? I think the slow move toward standards whenever feasible has already begun and eventually Flash will be left to handle the small number of niche jobs that can't be handled using Javascript/HTML/CSS.

On top of that, as long as Apple is in the position they're in with the iPhone not supporting Flash, other phone manufacturers are going to view mobile flash as "not mission critical", even if they join your consortium and let you put their logo on the consortium's web page. As long as that's true, these companies are going to view Flash as a potential marketing advantage and nothing more. They'll list it as a feature they have that the iPhone doesn't, but they're not going to expend huge resources making sure it's wonderful, because it's already been proven that people will buy smart phones that don't have Flash. These companies will do just enough to be able to put "Flash-enabled" in their ads and that's it. Again, it might not be right, but it is the political reality of how decisions are made at large companies. There's always too much to do and too few hours, and if you can't convince them all that Flash is mission critical, they're not going to pull resources away from other things to get it done.

Now, if Apple and RIM get onboard with Flash, that completely changes the political landscape. It won't change my mind about Flash being a poor choice for most types of web development, but it certainly will change its future viability substantially.


Chris Ryland said...


You've expressed perfectly what I've believed for the past couple of years. Well put.

Now you can safely put this topic to rest.


Peter Lorent said...

This hurts.

scott said...

Flash will be seeing its final days...

along with video and audio tags... game over.