The Adobe Flash Fiction Report

September 23rd, 2010

Even when a story is just not true, that doesn’t stop it from being repeated over and over again. Take the silly theory that Apple won’t allow Flash into its mobile walled garden so Steve Jobs could exert more complete control over your online experience. Few will admit that the objections contained in his infamous blog posting by Jobs are true, and that Apple’s reasons at the very least include significant technical considerations.

So it just happens that the latest Android OS software includes the long-promised mobile version of Flash. But it’s also true that this version of Flash remains incredibly buggy. Some Adobe-approved sites work just fine, whereas others cause serious system slow-downs, or plain don’t work properly.

As Jobs — and too few independent tech writers — stated, there are tens of millions of Flash sites out there that weren’t designed with touch in mind. They expect you to use a mouse, trackball, trackpad or similar conventional device to point and click. Touching isn’t a part of the picture, so loads of sites would have to be redesigned extensively to take advantage of this expected state of affairs. The experience with the Android version of Flash fully confirms this serious shortcoming.

Jobs also said that Adobe was late to the party, that they promised a working smartphone version of Flash, but never delivered. You can argue that, yes, such a release exists on the Android platform, so Jobs must be wrong. But that would be true only if that version of Flash answered all or most of Apple’s complaints. It doesn’t.

Just this week, Adobe’s stock is suffering because their earnings report, while showing a 69% increase in net income, has a less favorable outlook for the next quarter, due to flagging back-to-school orders and poor sales in Japan. I suppose it’s possible the “Not Welcome” sign for Flash-based content on the iOS platform has hurt Adobe to some extent, but it doesn’t seem that most people buy Creative Suite products simply to focus on building Flash-based content. Besides, Apple has loosened the requirements for building iOS apps, which means you can, once again, port them from Flash, if that’s what you want.

What that means is that, in the end, the marketplace will decide. If those apps fail to catch on, the developers will either have to find ways to improve them within the existing structure, or use a different programming environment.

Unfortunately many of the objections to Apple’s original position didn’t take into account the consequences of building inferior apps.

Now this doesn’t mean Apple isn’t exerting a substantial level of control, particularly when it comes to the mobile platform. However, Mac OS X, though legally limited to Apple-built personal computers, pays a lot of respect to open source apps. The underbelly of Mac OS X has loads of them. Apple also continues to push industry standards, such as HTML5.

Surprisingly enough, one of the promised advantages of the forthcoming Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 for Windows is that there’s greater adherence to industry standards, including HTML5. Those who have played with the current beta version say it’s as fast or faster than the latest Firefox and fully competitive with Safari and Google Chrome. Such are the advantages of genuine competition.

Returning to the mobile platform, Apple has decided that a controlled environment is good not because the company is populated with control freaks, but because you get a predictable, consistent, reliable user experience without having to worry about carrier-based customizations, or complicated preference settings. Despite the occasional complaints about arbitrary App Store review policies, Apple’s published standards provide at least the assurance that what you download — and often pay for — will perform as advertised without crashing your iPhone.

You cannot say the same about an Android phone. One is definitely not the same as another, once you consider the various OS versions and the fact you may not even be able to install OS updates. Tack onto that the customizations added by the manufacturer and/or the wireless carrier, and all bets are off.

As far as Adobe Flash is concerned, the company is ignoring the best way to demonstrate Apple is wrong in its objections, and that is to deliver a version for the iOS that meets Apple’s objections. If they can do that, a simple YouTube video would prove to one and all that Steve Jobs was wrong.

That hasn’t happened because it is clear to me that Adobe is unable to meet those objections, not out of spite or because they were made by a mercurial control freak CEO, but due to clear and provable technical grounds. The version available for Android smartphone users fails to vindicate Adobe.

So it’s high time that tech pundits abandon their claims about Flash. The truth is out there, if they can handle that truth.

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15 Responses to “The Adobe Flash Fiction Report”

  1. Bob says:

    Any product, including HTML5, that has to span multiple platforms and browsers is going to have glitches. It’s unavoidable, especiallly across a wide berth of ram and processor capabilities. HTML5 is no panacea and we’ll be dealing with similar issues for years to come as different browser companies make their implementations of the unfinalized spec. Flash isn’t perfect, it but it works well enough to get the job done for alot of people.

    As for the argument that flash content wasn’t designed for the tablet – the entire html based internet we surf using the ipad wasn’t designed with a tablet in mind either. Maybe we should throw html based browsing under the bus too. Sites and applications specifically designed for the ipad are the only thing out there really designed with the tablet computing in mind. They’re a very small percentage of internet content — people want access to everything that’s on the internet not just tablet friendly content. Flash isn’t the problem there, it’s the usage and design paradigms we’ve been operating under for the last 30 years. It’s the mouse driven, point and click UI the the web was built on.

    Jobs is a control freak, but in a good way. I think he does what’s in the best interests of making his products unique, excellent, and succesful. However, that doesn’t always mean it’s what’s best for the consumer. Most customers want to see what they are able to see on their pc browsers on the ipad. Flawed or not, they ought to have the option. Let the consumer decide if they want to use flash on their device.

    • Peter says:


      HTML5 is not a product – it is standard. It is entirely up to the companies that create browsers to decide how closely they will conform to those standards. For some time, Microsoft IE lagged behind. With the release of IE9 beta it looks like that might change. Companies that design websites test and retest their code in different parsing engines (browsers) to ensure compatibility with the different html parsing engines. If the company that designs and maintains your website doesn’t do this – fire them! Good web designers have been ahead of the curve on mobile and standards based design for several years.

      Most mobile web browsers (Symbian, Google Chrome, Safari for iOS, Palm WebOS, Android, etc.) are built on the WebKit rendering engine open-sourced by Apple. This brings a degree of standardization across multiple mobile devices. WebCore, which is the layout, rendering, and DOM library for HTML in WebKit, is fairly standardized across the majority of recent mobile web browsers, which brings a high degree of consistency to how HTML renders. Pre-mobile websites may need to be tested, and perhaps recoded, to display correctly on mobile, but that is up to the site owner. They can choose to ignore mobile entirely if they wish.

      Earlier versions of HTML were standardized before the appearance of smart-phones and iPads, but even good old HTML 4.0.1 can be written to conform. Point and click works just as well on mobile as it does on desktop browsers – the only difference is that the touch-screen interface has no equivalent to the mouse-over. No big loss to HTML, but a huge problem for FLASH.

      The fact is this discussion has been a topic for web designers for many years. Designers left table-based layout behind and moved on to more standards-based presentation based on CSS. They are adapting very nicely to touch-screen UI. Flash has not moved forward. The fact is that it is for the most part rooted in mouse-over/mouse-down UI.

      It is important to keep in mind that Flash in a proprietary format. Adobe distributes the plug-in required to render Flash in web browsers. It is Adobe’s responsibility to update the plug-in as well as Flash to make it work with mobile browsers. It they can’t make it work it will fade away as so many other technologies have – Anyone remember Macromedia Director?

  2. Bob says:

    It will be a standard when it actually gets finalized. Right now it’s a moving target. The point is they’re both chosen methodologies on how to deliver content. The quality of both will suffer from bugs and performance issues depending on how they’re implemented. Now instead of having one cook in the kitchen you’ve got four or five delivering the same dish with slightly different recipes. IE9 looks great, I’m all for progress. But try running the same HTML5 demo of anything complex on a wide range of current browsers and it’s pretty obvious it’s going to take a while for it to get consistently usable. It will get there, but there will always be trade offs.

    Flash is no more or less culpable than any other point and click mouse driven technology. Javascript certainly uses mouse over. But you don’t have to use mouse over in either. You write that HTML 4.0 can be written to conform — so can flash. If that’s good enough for mobile browsing why isn’t it good enough for flash? It’s odd that you find the standard acceptable for one and not the other. What feature is not present that you absolutely can’t do without or work around?

    It’s an issue for the designer of the content not the platform/technology itself. Flash itself is no more or less ill suited to deliver content than HTML5 or standard HTML. To take content that clearly was designed for the point and click web and complain that it doesn’t magically work well on tablets has little relevance to the platform it was delivered on. It’s about what platform and user experience the content is designed for. Everyone needs to get better at this.

    • Peter says:


      HTML 4.0 was in use long before it was finalized – as HTML5 is in use now. Browsers have always differed in how they render documents. We have been accommodating IE6 and IE7 for years. As long as users get the same content with an acceptable presentation (design) it all works in the end. Users with more advanced browsers will get more interesting presentation features than less capable browsers.

      Flash, on the other hand, depends on the browser plug-in. Adobe has failed to deliver acceptable performance on any mobile platform to date. Rewriting the ActionScript to accommodate touch interface for an existing site is no trivial matter. Clients will need to decide on a site by site basis the ROI – as they will for HTML. The difference is that because of the near standardization in mobile browser engines, as well as the fact there there is virtually no need to accommodate mobile in the page markup, most existing pages display correctly already.

      You are perhaps forgetting that modern HTML design can easily accommodate technologies such as screen readers and print, which are not dependent on the mouse.

    • Peter says:

      @Bob, IE9 is not about progress – it is about catching up with Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera, and, again there will likely always be differences in rendering amongst the browsers. On a side note, it is interesting that Microsoft has decided to support H.264 mp4 in the HTML5 video tags in IE9, unlike Firefox who remain firmly against it.

      I don’t know if it is apparent to most end users – and I don’t think they should care – how much has changed in the last year or so in web coding. A good example is the New York Times Editorials and Opinion page:

      It has an HTML 4.01 Transitional DOCTYPE, and yet incorporates the Typekit script for incorporating web fonts, stylesheets for web as well as print, and a well known workaround to accommodate the peculiarities of Internet Explorer 6! It looks just fine on every browser I have – including IE6 – as well as my iPad and iPhone – and it has Flash video. Great job guys. Designers and developers like to use new technologies. Good ones will adapt – they have to to keep their jobs and keep eyeballs on the page.

      Yes, JavaScript has mouse-over, and CSS has :hover. So what? The CSS :hover pseudo-class was never completely supported in IE browsers anyway. The fact that I can change the color of a link on mouse over in a desktop browser doesn’t negate the functionality of the link on a touch screen. The link continues to work as expected – it just doesn’t change color. The user doesn’t have to learn a new action, and I don’t have to rewrite the code.

      The problem with Flash is that if I write script to trigger an event on mouse over, it only works on desktop browsers. I am sure that Adobe can come up with some clever means of triggering the event with a two-finger touch or something – but they have failed to deliver!

      We should also make the distinction between Flash video, Flash ads, and interactive Flash games and such. No one on iOS misses Flash ads, period! Flash video was/is actually pretty good, although YouTube – and others – have already demonstrated that H.264 mp4 is just as nice. It will cost money to transition from one to the other however, so companies will need to consider what they want to support, who their audience is, etc.

      So, what we are left with is Flash for interactivity. Clients have been insisting on Flash for all kinds of nonsense for years, and sometimes we can’t talk them out of it (deep pockets). This has been happening less and less over the last two years or so – Flash development is expensive. Since the release of the iPad, we now have clients coming back wanting the Flash removed from their sites – or minimized at least. Example in point – a restaurant that insisted on having their entire menu in Flash. We couldn’t talk them out of it and they had someone else do it.

      I think that Flash has a place on the web, but is often used for all the wrong reasons. As an example take, a look at the Rolex site. Very nice – very expensive – completely inaccessible to the blind, and very demanding of your processor. Look at it with a low-end netbook – and be prepared to wait! It is a lovely portfolio piece for the design firm and is fun to watch – once. Try to get some information out of it that you can use – no Search?

      • Bob says:

        @Peter, Peter, poorly designed content is platform agnostic. Just because the Rolex site doesn’t function well doesn’t mean the flash platform is bad. It means the designers did a bad job considering the potential audiences and the performance limitations. There will be horribly implemented HTML5 projects and horribly implemented pieces designed strictly for touchscreen use. That’s just a function of poor coding or design.

        I can get a great frame rate in an HTML5 game in IE9 and get dismal performance in another browser. Is that the fault of the HTML5 spec, the person who coded the game, or the browser implementation? The result is still bad regardless.

        Flash performed surprisingly well when I tested it on a MyTouch slide. It is however, completely ridiculous to expect it to perform the same way on a mobile processor as it does on a Core I5 desktop with 4 gig of ram. Design the content for the devices it’s intended for. HTML5 isn’t going to perform as well on a handset as it does on a desktop in every instance either. There’s less ram and less cpu performance. Build your product accordingly. Test it often on the platforms you are targeting.

        As for the the rollover, I still don’t see why you’re hung up on it. Just don’t use it. Use mouse down and cursor position information. Try something inventive. Great developers make the most of whatever tools they have at their disposal. There is a place for interactive flash on devices, it just needs to be created with attention to the input capabilities and hardware limitations of your intended target.

        • Peter says:

          @Bob, Bob, HTML5 is a markup language like XHTML and HTML. It has nothing whatsoever to do with frame-rates. The animation and/or interaction you are referring to in the so-called HTML5 demos employ JavaScript and CSS and could be done – mostly – in HTML 4.

          I am not “hung up on rollovers”. I was using the :hover pseudo-class as a simple example of how HTML markup accommodated the differences between desktop browsers and touchscreen. I can leave the :hover state in the CSS and the link is still functional – the Flash ActionScript will need to be rewritten – hence my client will incur additional costs.

          I am not sure how familiar you actually are with web development but no one has actually written to specific browsers or “devices” in quite some time – not for commercial sites at any rate. It doesn’t work that way. We can accommodate some of MS IE’s oddities with a bit of additional CSS if our client wishes – but write the markup for a specific device? It simply doesn’t work that way. We don’t target platforms. Game designers do – web designer don’t.

          “Try something inventive. Great developers make the most of whatever tools they have at their disposal” That is both insulting and naive. All designers have to work within the limitations of their client – that includes budget. This is a business and we don’t work for free. If a client has the budget to pay for an experiment, then all well and good – we’ll try something inventive. To suggest that we not pushing the medium and experimenting – that we are not inventive or great designers – that is just plain insulting.

  3. Bob says:

    Forgot to say, I absolutely agree Adobe has work to do performance and stability wise. It’s a big issue to get adequate performance alone. They certainly can and do need to innovate and think about the issues we’re discussing. I just think the particular argument in Jobs statement was weak and unequally applied to all the other technologies that share the mouse driven roots of the web. Thanks.

  4. John Dowdell says:

    “But it’s also true that this version of Flash remains incredibly buggy.”

    Enough with the fiction already, okay?


    • @John Dowdell, So you mean that the report about problems with the Android OS version of Flash, from the online editor of Laptop Magazine, no fan of Apple, was wrong? My challenge to Adobe stands: Show us that it runs OK on an iPhone or iPad, and I’ll listen to you. Otherwise, you’re blowing smoke.


  5. Glenn says:

    Approx. 5000 (and increasing) new Flash-websites are hitting the net everyday. The poor iSlaves can say what they want well.. they can’t -but anyway: Flash rules the net and will survive us all !

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