"Flash is dead." Wait, what? Flash is dead... since when?
I started developing digital content and rich media almost 15 years ago thanks to a fondness of technology, a strong curiosity towards the Internet, and a hungry appetite for creativity. In 1996, Flash (or FutureSplash as it was originally named) burst onto the scene with its fair share of resistance and an equally overwhelming amount of skepticism. In an era of GeoCities and animated GIFs, it was profoundly groundbreaking. Fast forward a decade and a half later: Flash has become the de facto method for creating rich content on the Web. Its ubiquity is in the numbers with over 98% penetration rates in most mature markets across the globe. I find it fascinating that a once obscure technology is now on nearly every computer in the world, but I digress.
Prior to the release of the iPad, I'm willing to bet you never encountered the "Flash is dead" mantra that has swept the Internet by storm and that the anti-Flash evangelists have made popular as of late. Sure, you'd hear an occasional gripe from hardcore developers who are less interested in the what than they are the why, but just two months ago, referring to Flash as being antiquated would have been a fallacy.
Now it's June, the iPad has been here for 2 months, and the anti-Flash sentiments echo throughout the Web louder than ever. If you're reading this, odds are this debate is still relevant to you and very much alive on a number of the blogs, forums, and other social sites you visit.
If Flash is on nearly 99% of computers connected to the Internet and new Flash sites are being developed daily, it begs the question: is Flash really dead? The simple answer is no—not by a long-shot. To even refer to it as "dying" would be nothing less than misinformation. Yes, Flash does have plenty of faults and limitations (as any Flash developer would be happy to relate). However, as a professional, it's my job to create a compelling end-product for my clients. To them, as paying customers, anything that needs to happen on my end during the development process is irrelevant. What matters is the end result. So, as any creative person with a knack for logical thinking would do, I leverage the tools I have at my disposal in an effort to realize the creation of an idea as it was conceived and to do so with as much accuracy as humanly possible. Fortunately or unfortunately, as of today, Flash is still, unarguably, the best tool available on the market for developing rich content. Any argument to the contrary is one that is founded in naivety, stubbornness, or perhaps both.
In all honesty, a number of the points raised against Flash are extremely valid. However, in fairness, I find the majority of them to be subjective and easily arguable depending on matters of circumstance. In most cases, these issues are the product of lousy Flash developers creating a subpar product. In either case, no one has made an argument valid enough to legitimize the demonization of Flash as it has been perpetuated by the likes of Steve Jobs and his cohorts. If you prefer not to develop Flash content—for whatever reason—that's a fine position to take. However, demanding the death of Flash without a suitable replacement borders on sheer idiocy.
Okay, Flash has crashed my browser a handful of times, but what content rich application hasn't? If I had a dollar for every beach-ball I've gotten on my Mac from any number of various applications over the years, well…I wouldn't be writing this. Sure, it's tricky to develop sites where breadcrumbs and bookmarking are a piece of cake, but it is doable and that's part of our job. No one said it would be easy. Yes, a lot of advertisements on the Web are served up using Flash, but you can damn well expect that if Flash is ever replaced by a successor, the ads will be developed using that technology instead. The list of minor complaints goes on…but I ask you, what other single piece of software doesn't have its own fair share of faults? [Note: If you'd like to argue some of these finer points individually, I welcome your comments].
Imagine a world without Flash (and think how boring the Web would be then)…say I want to build a Website in which users navigate by interacting with their webcam. Oh, I can't? Bummer. Well, what if I wanted to create a site in which people can chat in real time using customized avatars that develop over time while simultaneously playing a multiplayer game with their friends. Wait, I can't do that either? Geez, okay. How about an immersive online experience that lets customers interact with a product with integrated audio, video, and interactivity? I can't do that either!?
"Forget all that! Look at how seamlessly you can implement video in HTML5!" Six months ago YouTube decided to make a large majority of their videos available in HTML5 using the H.264 codec (which Flash also already supports). Are users experiencing anything new—or for that matter, better? No, I'm just experiencing the same content without having to have a plugin, which 99% of users have anyway. What if I want to use custom player controls? What level of control do I have over buffering? Can users add live notations and place them physically within the video? In what ways can I smoothly transition between content? If I can do any of these things, will it work seamlessly cross-browser? If so, is there an abundance of information available online or in books and magazines to help me in the process?
I'm all for open standards, but not at the expense of usability, accessibility, and most importantly: features. What if the anti-Flash zealots got their way and tomorrow Flash was gone. Tell me: how is it easier or more streamlined for the developers of every major browser to constantly update their software to keep up with new iterations of HTML5 as it evolves? It sure seems a lot easier to update one simple plugin. For years, a lack of uniform Web standards implemented in exactly the same way on every browser has been the plight of developers everywhere. What a nightmare! And that's one of the beautiful things about Flash.
Let's not forget that Flash content isn't developed strictly for the Web, either. It's quite robust—aside from Projector files and Adobe Air apps, Flash is even used for things like console game interfaces and even more interesting things like this application for the US military (http://theflashblog.com/?p=1034). I won't even delve into the market that currently exists for third party developers who make a living by creating plugins and add-ons for Flash that help make development easier.
What I expect to happen is for Adobe to position Flash as a robust content authoring tool that will continue to help make it easier for people like us to create content for a variety of platforms in any number of languages, and not just for the Web. Perhaps the SWF format will die out entirely; if it does, I don't think it will mark the death of Flash but rather the birth of something bigger.
Moving forward, I don't see the absence of Flash on Apple products as a winning battle for those who despise Flash, nor do I see it as inhibitive for someone who makes their living developing Flash content. It's unfortunate that as a customer I can't decide what content I'm allowed to see on a particular device, but that's not the end of the world. As a creative, I see this as an opportunity. Clearly, the browsing users do on an iPhone, iTouch, or even iPad is very different from that of traditional computer users. I see this as an opportunity to cater to a specific audience and reach them in a unique way. They're experiencing the Web in a different manner and likely have very different expectations from the content they're seeking out.
As professionals in our field, we shouldn't be advocating (or protesting) the use of Flash simply for the sake of it—we should support the use of the most appropriate technology available to meet a customers needs. I suspect this is already the case of any responsible designer/developer working in our industry. If you're thoughtful enough to approach each and every project with an open mind and truly consider the clients goals and expectations, "anti-Flash" probably isn't in your vocabulary.
I'm excited about HTML5 and its potential, but not as a replacement to Flash—at least not yet. Products are dictated by the perceived desires of consumers and their demands. I wholeheartedly encourage you to demand a better product from either Adobe specifically or the industry at large. But, let's not put the cart before the horse. Personally, I would like to see Flash stay around only as much as I'd like it to be replaced by something better. Until something better does come along, you can expect that I'll be using any combination of the available technologies that best suits my clients needs. I can only hope that you'll do your clients the same justice.
Thanks for reading!
About the Author, Gabe Rubin
Gabe Rubin is an award-winning Creative Director & Designer that has been working within the interactive industry for over 10 years. Previously, he was Co-Founder and Creative Director of Neoganda, a digital creative agency that has serviced some of today’s largest brands including: Nissan, Toyota, Disney, Universal Studios, NBC Universal, Lionsgate Films, Paramount Pictures, Mattel, Fox, Sony, and many more…
He is now the Founder and Creative Director of Curious & Co., a new boutique digital agency in Los Angeles that specializes in high-end creative for clients and agencies alike.
Gabe enthusiastically welcomes contract work of any nature.