Now It’s Inevitable: Flash is Dying!

March 3rd, 2010

In 1998, Apple killed the floppy drive. It took a few years for the rest of the industry to catch up, but the handwriting was clearly on the wall. Of course, anyone who actually lost data on a worn or defective floppy would only cheer the end of that flawed storage scheme.

Segue to 2007. Apple introduces the iPhone without support for Flash. People complain, but iPhones sell at ever-increasing rates. Today, with some 40 million of them around the world, and the iPad on the immediate horizon, Steve Jobs has made it quite clear that Flash is the floppy drive of the 21st century. It’s time for it to go.

Now there have been lots of complaints from the tech media, but you have to wonder whether some of those stories were actually fed by Adobe’s spin machine. Sure, the players are given away free, but you have to pay for the developer tools, and that’s where Adobe earns lots of money. Indeed they bought Macromedia to get Flash and — of course — kill Illustrator’s main competitor, FreeHand.

Yes, it’s true that the lack of Flash on Apple’s mobile gear means that many sites will not look right. Whether navigation menus, introductory videos or special features, you won’t be able to access all the available content.

Adobe takes the position that they are working on a version of Flash that will better support mobile platforms, with improved support for Multi-Touch, which is where the existing version fails badly. Maybe that’ll happen, but Steve Jobs is not likely to backtrack on his decision. He’s already accused Adobe’s developers of being “lazy,” and complained that Flash is the number one cause of crashes on Macs.

You’ll note that, with Snow Leopard, browser plugins are sandboxed, so if they crash, it’s not accompanied by the application itself. In fact, 90% of the very few crashes I’ve encountered since installing Snow Leopard last August were, in fact, caused by Flash.

Now as tens of millions of additional customers acquire Apple’s mobile products, the number of visitors to Flash-based sites will also decline, which pretty much forces the issue. Web developers must either build two versions of their sites to accommodate the different requirements of their potential visitors, or just set Flash aside and try to work within open Web standards.

That may be happening. Google is beta testing an alternative to YouTube without Flash, and just this week Virgin America, a small airline, decided to drop Flash from its site. In the Macworld article reporting on the change, writer Dan Moren concludes, “Because, as we know, all it really takes in the corporate world is one executive with an iPhone to ask why she can’t use the company’s site on her device.”

But that’s just the beginning. Any site that depends on attracting the highest possible number of visitors to attract ads and/or garner subscription revenue will also take notice when the potential customer base drops. One thing is certain, and that is Apple will not be easily persuaded to work out something with Adobe to ultimately support Flash. I’m not going to say never, because it’s quite possible that Adobe, seeing the loss of potential profits, will press its development team to tame Flash for the iPhone and address all or most of Apple’s concerns.

But the window of opportunity is small, and I suspect if it doesn’t happen this year, the chances that Flash will persevere despite the lack of support from Apple are slim to none. Yes, Apple still has a minority share of the smartphone market, but they also have a disproportionate share of mobile-based Web users. Maybe that disparity will even itself out some as competing devices improve their Web access, but the problems with Flash will persist.

As has already been mentioned, even if Flash runs with decent performance, and even if it doesn’t hog system resources or compromise stability, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to magically access all or most Flash sites on your smartphone. Flash is designed to work with regular personal computers that have conventional input devices. The Multi-Touch universe can cause loads and loads of trouble, starting with the imprecision of using your finger as a pointing device on a tiny screen. Not only will Flash have to be updated to support such issues, but many sites may have to be reprogrammed substantially to accommodate the changes. It’s not an easy process.

As a result, Web developers might begin to look for the free, open source alternatives to Flash that don’t require paying fees for Adobe’s products.

In a few years, Steve Jobs may be proven correct once again. Flash will be history, and Adobe is just going to have to adapt to the situation and let those other products keep them in business. It’s not as if Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are going away any time soon, even without Flash support.

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44 Responses to “Now It’s Inevitable: Flash is Dying!”

  1. Jafar says:

    Flash brought you real video streams via Youtube and therefore KILLED television.
    You ungrateful assholes! :X

    If it wasn’t for Flash we’d still be watching crappy reruns of the Real World, American Idol, and all the other dumb shit on television.

    If it wasn’t for Flash, we’d be watching video streams on Real Player, Windows Media Player, or Quicktime!

    Remember Quicktime Video??!?! No you don’t because it sucked. Oh who made it…hmm Apple did.

    How dare you encourage the death of a legend, the same legend that set you free.

    • You are talking about the past. Flash is a notorious source of malware and system crashes and it’s also a resource hog. Steve Jobs isn’t blocking Flash from the iOS for arbitrary reasons. He has provided specific information, still not refuted by Adobe, as to why. Would you like to bring black floppy drives too, because they used to be useful?


  2. Richard says:


    With all due respect, Flash is not the past. It is the present, although it was a part of the past. There is very little independent evidence that HTML5 is materially less resource dependent than Flash. I am certainly not saying that Flash does not use a lot of resources on most systems, especially older ones such as my MDD G4s. As I see it, the simple truth is that video demands a lot of resources, whether it be Quicktime, WMV, Flash or anything else. I deplore the all too typical overproduced web sites that are grotesquely over produced complex video renditions of what should be something simple and straight forward, like entering the web site. That is as much a matter of terrible judgment in creating the web site as the (Flash) tool used to create it.

    The point, however, is that Flash, like it or not, is reality, both today and for the foreseeable (near-term) future. To deny that is to hide one’s head in the sand. The problem with Flash is Steve’s. Steve lied. Steve promised “all the internet” with the original iPhone knowing full well that neither he nor anyone else could deliver access to “all the internet” without Flash implementation of some description or other. For their part, Adobe have stated that Apple have had all they needed to implement Flash on the iPhone for quite some time. Obviously, Apple have not made any effort to implement Flash and so Adobe have stepped in to try to provide a more widely useful Flash implementation for the rest of the mobile internet/”smartphone” market. Apple have recently made some TV commercials which essentially talk about the whole internet or some such marketing phrase in relation to the iPad. Shame on you Steve!

    Steve has a long, long history of releasing crippled devices. Some of the shortcomings of the current mobile offerings are so obvious as to preclude any other conclusion. Having only had limited exposure to the new iPhone 4, there appear to be a number of worthwhile improvements and a continuing number of “oversights” (omissions). I will look at one, but may go to a Sprint Android phone because of AT&T’s recent data plan changes, which have nothing to do with the iPhone 4 itself.

    This applies to the iPad, except to a greater degree because of the larger form factor which precludes any rational excuses for not including them. Although technical analysis of the A4 SoC is limited, it appears to lack any number of capabilities of the NVidia Tegra 2 SoC. Time will tell whether being first to market was worth the compromises. For Apple it may well be. For consumers it may not be. Perhaps the second generation iPad (“surely” Apple will not wait a year for it) will catch up. Jan-Feb would be a more typical release date for Apple, but a Christmas release of the second generation iPad could be a “home run”.

    In any event, your comparison of Flash to a floppy drive is a false one. Floppy drives continued to be “standard equipment” on desktop PCs because of M$. You had to have one in order to perform a number of OS related recoveries. Other devices were not supported. Apple had no such limitations and one could always utilize an external floppy drive to import/export data or whatever might be necessary. You can not do that with Flash vs. no Flash. You are comparing apples and oranges. Did I really say that ? 🙂

    In short, I have no interest in Flash except that without it I can not access “all the internet”. If a day eventually comes that Flash is gone I will not be sad.

    Oh, one last thing. I recently went into the Apple store to take a look at some web sites on the iPad which were known to me to have varying degrees of Flash content on them. I have viewed them in a browser with Flash blockers so I felt that I had some idea of what they should look like without Flash. (The RSS newsreader NetNewsWire lacks Flash (and Javascript for that matter) and so I also have an idea of its limitations.) Anyway, Safari on the iPad displayed a message “Safari can’t find (URL of Website)”. I can only conclude that Apple are employing a blocking approach to web sites with Flash content instead of simply showing them without Flash.


  3. Yes, Flash is dying.

    Just use ‘google trends’ to get the proof.

    Try ‘actionscript’ instead of ‘Flash’ because the discussion about Flash is to big.

    When looking up global interest in ‘actionscript’ you really see into the minds of former flash developers (and designers who need flash actionscript help) – they start abandon it.

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