2010: the year Flash became irrelevant

My 2nd prediction for 2010 (the first one being ‘offline is the new online‘): the glory days of Flash are over. The reason for this is twofold; the mobile web and the strong advances “open web” technology is making.

Open web moving in, fast

Remember the days when everybody wanted to spice up otherwise dull websites with “a flash splash page” and “flash menu’s”? Now menu’s are built in accessible, SEO-friendly HTML once again, using CSS to add style and even behavior, adding some Javascript if magic dust is required . And splash pages, well, those were pretty useless to begin with. Adobe Flash’s stronghold now is video playback and animation, but they’re bound to eventually lose that battle as well.
For starters; video (and audio) on the web doesn’t have to be based on a plugin any more. Firefox, Safari and Chrome have built-in html5 audio- and video-playback capabilities and several video-sites are already experimenting with those native browser multimedia-features. True, there’s still that darn codec-problem, but I bet you that’ll get solved in 2010 (clue; Google is negotiating the acquisition of video codec specialists On2 Technologies).
On the animation-front things are moving at such a fast pace, I even need a bulleted list;

Mobile; the Flash-less revolution

There’s no Flash on the iPhone. It wasn’t there at launch, back in 2007 and –despite me thinking it would arrive in 2009– it’s still not there. This decision is said to be Steve Jobs’, who in 2008 stated that a full-fledged version of Flash “performs too slow to be useful“. And it seems as though the turtlenecked CEO was right all along; on one hand the mobile web boomed thanks to the iPhone browser and on the other hand Adobe is still struggling to provide a decent mobile Flash experience, despite huge efforts in 2009. The fact is there’s no Flash on the booming mobile web, no-one seems to miss it much and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.

Adobe’s answer; mobile banners & deploy to Appstore

So with a Flash-less mobile web and with strong browser-native competition for both multimedia and graphics on the “normal” web, how does Adobe see it’s future? Well, they plan to roll out “iPhone packager for Flash” in CS5, allowing any Flash developer to publish to the AppStore, but there’s still no news about in-browser Flash on the iPhone.
For non-Apple devices, Adobe is boasting a preview version of Flash 10.1 in a mobile browser (the Android 2.0 browser on Google Nexus One in this case) with this promo video;

Flash Player 10.1 on Google's Nexus One Phone

I don’t know about you, but somehow a sub-par game, web video and banners don’t convince that Flash has a bright future ahead. Not on mobile and maybe even not on the open web as it’s shaping up to be.
But maybe you think Flash will remain in the spotlights despite all of this? Why? Let us know in the comments!

20 thoughts on “2010: the year Flash became irrelevant”

  1. The codec is the challenge, the standard H.264 video and AAC audio could be the solution (both part of the mpeg-4 standard).
    Would be nice from a content creator’s point of view, one codec for al platforms, mobile, web, HD, Blu-ray .

  2. Hey Frank,
    Thanks for opening this discussion. Before I continue with my comment, you should know that I work for Adobe. Adobe’s been paying my paycheck for the last 3 years now. That said, I have been a strong supporter of Flash for many many years now. I work on the platform evangelism team but I’ve been evangelizing Flash for more than 12 years.
    I’d like to go over your post point by point and would love to hear your thoughts afterwards. Feel free to email me at serge@adobe.com or ping me on Twitter (@sjespers).
    First of all, I agree with your point on Flash intro’s and menu’s. You should always use a technology for adding value to your project, not just because it’s flashy. Remember the blink tag in HTML? When that became available, nearly every site used it because it was “refreshing” ;-). The same was the case for Flash. When Flash first arrived on the web (now nearly 13 years ago), the web was pretty dull. You could add some animated gifs to your site but other than that there were no real options to add animation or interactivity to your site. Flash changed that and also caused a revolution on the web. Back then, those Flash intro’s were pretty cool. No one had ever done something like that on the web and everyone wanted it. Luckily the web has evolved and the “skip intro” era is already far behind us.
    You also mention Flash video. You have to agree that Flash revolutionized video on the web. Remember the old days where you had to choose between Windows Media Player, Real Player and Quicktime? And when you made your selection, you still had to pick your connection speed. And when you finally got through all your selections, chances were you still didn’t have the right codec and you still wouldn’t see the video. With Flash, ‘play video’ actually means ‘play video’ and today over 85% of all the video on the web is viewed using Flash Player. YouTube, CNN, Vimeo, NY Times, Flickr, Last.fm, Facebook and many many more all use Flash. If the HTML5 body can not decide on a common video codec or even the entire spec (see http://www.cssquirrel.com/2010/01/11/comic-update-the-html5-show-aka-a-mess/), chances are we are going back to that era. “You want to watch this video? Please download codec x or browser y”. I don’t know about you, but I do not want to go back to this!
    The same goes for different implementations of HTML5 in different browsers. If I look at http://a.deveria.com/caniuse/, it is clear that this is going to cause even more nightmares for webdevelopers than what you can currently imagine. Do we really want to go back to web pages with a “This site is best viewed in browser x” message? Sure, basic HTML5 stuff already works today but I think that’s not what we are talking about here? Sure, browsers like Firefox and Chrome will be the forerunners in HTML5’s success but when are those browsers going to reach critical mass? And with critical mass I do not mean the tech world. We’re all early adopters in the tech world and we will all download alpha and beta versions of browsers and apps way before the man in the street does. And that is exactly the challenge that HTML5 faces. It’s going to take many years for HTML5 to reach that man in the street. The Flash ubiquity also didn’t happen overnight. After many years of development, Flash Player is now a trusted household name and it now takes less than 10 months to reach critical mass with a new version of Flash Player. Every new release of Flash Player has new features. So these new features are available to the general public almost instantly.
    The current proposed feature set of HTML5 has been available in Flash Player since version 7. That version was released in September of 2003. Some features were even introduced in Flash Player 1 (See http://blog.digitalbackcountry.com/2009/05/html5-versus-flash-versions/) So those features have been available for at least 6 years now. Sure, HTML 5 will still evolve but so will the Flash Player.
    Mobile is far from a Flash-less revolution. The mobile world is a lot bigger than the iPhone marketshare. There are roughly 2 billion mobile phones worldwide. Only a small fraction of those are iPhones. 1 billion of them already have Flash capabilities. Sure, it’s only Flash Lite and therefore it has a smaller feature-set than the Flash Player you are used to on your desktop but this “lighter” version is used on many different phones for UIs, games and apps.
    Ok… We do not have Flash Player available on the iPhone. We would love to have it there but we need some help from Apple to make it happen. That said, I think that the ability to compile native iPhone applications from Flash CS5 is bigger than you think. See http://www.techcrunch.com/2010/01/10/flash-developers-iphone/
    Contrary to what you suggest, the Open Screen Project is a big success (see http://www.webkitchen.be/2009/10/06/10-leading-ceos-discuss-the-open-screen-project-and-flash/). Flash Player 10.1 is only the first release out of the Open Screen Project and 19 out of the 20 biggest mobile manufacturers have signed up for the OSP. So early 2010, you’ll see Flash Player 10.1 on Android, Symbian, WebOS and Windows Mobile smart phones.
    The demo you posted, does indeed “only” show advertising and web video. But advertising is pretty big on the web… How many sites do you visit on a day to day basis that rely on advertisers to pay their bills? Sure… Some people would have a field day if sites would show less advertising but the reality of this world is that bills have to be paid. A lot of ad campaigns are made with Flash technology. Like Stefan Richter recently said on my blog (http://www.webkitchen.be/2009/11/04/the-day-the-web-went-dark/): “If HTML5 is really going to replace Flash one day are you sure that the ads won’t be equally as annoying and intrusive as Flash can be. What to do then? Install the HTML5-blocker Firefox add-on?”
    Check out http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flashplayer/articles/mobile_demos_fp10.1.html?devcon=f4 for more mobile Flash Player demos. It’s not just about advertising.
    I’m sure you can tell by the length of this comment that this is a subject I feel very strongly about. Flash Player isn’t all that bad and you probably use it everyday without even knowing it. Wether you are viewing a map on Google Street View, listening to your favorite artists on Pandora, Finetune or Last.FM or editing images using free web apps like Picnik, Aviary, Photoshop.com and Sumopaint, Flash Player has it’s place on the web today and in the future.
    Serge Jespers

  3. Ik kocht een Motorola Droid oa omdat binnenkort er flash op komt te staan. Te veel campagnesites en winkel gebruiken flash voor hun site en die kan je dan niet bekijken..

  4. Good article and I agree with most of it, but it will take some time when all users have upgraded to an HTML5 of CSS3-browser, 20% of the users is still using IE6. I don’t think Flash will become irrelevant any time soon…

  5. Relevancy is determined by target audience. Both Flash and HTML5 are irrelevant to, say, a construction foreman or a fighter pilot. Forgive the loose metaphor, but I’m just trying to say that Flash is the best tool for certain things and HTML is the best tool for certain things. To an animator, I would say that Flash is and will continue to be highly relevant. If you want to deliver content in the browser and the iPhone, HTML would be a great choice. 🙂 I wish people would quit bitching and just enjoy using technology to make great things.

  6. thanks for the replies, some interesting points being made here which are worth pondering. I’ll reply to some of these comments tomorrow, that is if I can pull my head out of my bum 😉

  7. Canvas tag gaining momentum? Come on, do you really expect us to buy that?
    This post seems to be a big old moan full of personal opinions rather than researched facts. I’ll bookmark it now and revisit it in… let’s say a few years. Seriously, I will.

  8. I think Serge has covered most of the salient points, but I just wanted to say that there isn’t a single use-case for Flash, and people do seem to have difficultly separating the technology from its (mis)use. I posted some thoughts about HTML5 “vs” Flash on my blog a while back.
    I can see HTML5 being adopted far more quickly on mobile platforms because MS doesn’t have such a stronghold.

  9. I disagree. Flash games are getting more and more popular. I did not heard for html5 game. How the play flash games on phones? and what with all other great applications made with flash.
    I read comments and Serge Jespers is so right in every word. Apple started it, but Adobe will win this battle.

    • to see some great examples of games based on ‘open web technology’ (aka “html5”) check out http://www.canvasdemos.com/type/games/ for example.
      this isn’t about apple vs adobe (at least, it’s not for me) but about a choice of a technology (stack). based on the evolutions currently taking place, i do think Flash is becoming less relevant. This does not mean Flash will disappear altogether, but its use will over time become less ubiquitous.

  10. Thanks for the link of games in html5, didn’t now that they already exists. Will check games tomorow.
    I either do not want this to be put as apple vs adobe. But when apple ban out flash from iphones a few days before CS5 release, thats exactly mean that. What is a choice of technology for me as user or developer if i can’t use or develop flash content on iphone.
    As a flash game developer(10+ years) i am not glad to hear about how flash is becoming less relevant…but I don’t know lets see what will happen and how things will work with html5. I hope you are wrong and that flash will keep its position in dev of RIA…

  11. @Serge Jespers: i have the same opinion like you, but as an evangelist who knows all the little things who tick in flash, what do you think about flash&SEO, has been made some improvements? It is safe to tell that the robots like google, yahoo, or other can see the content in the flash movie? Or they see the content if you have publish with protect by import?


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