Will Adobe Flash Survive the Era of the Mobile Internet?

Aug 22 2011

Adobe vs. CSS

Savvy web designers continually produce beautiful, elegant designs that play to the strengths of their medium. For designers that want pixel-perfect control over their designs, the only go-to for most of that time has been Adobe’s Flash platform. Lately, Adobe has taken a lot of flack over their proprietary design tool. To its credit, Flash has had clear benefits over CSS for many designers, but since the advent of CSS3 and HTML5, standards-compliant designing for the web has come into its own. Can Flash still boast those benefits, or will its various downsides spell the end for Flash?

In Defense of Flash

No doubt about it, if you’re looking for total control over your design, Flash can give it to you. Proprietary fonts are protected against piracy, fancy button animations are a cinch, and with both timeline-based and ActionScript-based animations, the sky’s the limit with animation. This has allowed Flash developers to create nifty online games and interactive environments, all contained in an enclosed movie. Flash also boasts improved media integration and the ability to create stand-alone replicas of your website for mass distribution without Internet connection. At first glance, it would seem Flash is the obvious choice for clients looking to provide a feature-rich user experience.

Where it All Falls Apart

There are numerous reasons why Flash isn’t necessarily the platform of choice for a website.

  • While Flash provided a format for delivering targeted video and audio, HTML5 has built-in support for video and audio as well. Today’s Internet provides plenty of solutions for delivering multimedia content outside of Flash.
  • Flash sites also return terrible SEO results, since all content is embedded in a published movie.
  • Flash is nearly inaccessible to physically-impaired audiences and totally inaccessible to visually-impaired audiences, making it unacceptable for government websites (or any company that doesn’t want to get sued for non-compliance.

What the Experts Have To Say

So what’s all this about Apple not supporting Flash on the iPhone and iPad? It’s not about being petty; it’s about delivering a stable platform. As Steve Jobs points out, Flash has one of the worst security records of 2009. It also has shown to perform poorly on all mobile devices to-date.  Let’s not forget, Flash works with mouse integration – not touchscreens. It consumes memory and battery power to play. In all, it works great on a desktop computer with loads of bandwidth and a steady power source, but falls flat in a mobile world.

Mobile users desktop users over 5 years

Mobile users will outpace desktop users within 5 years

Mary Meeker of Morgan-Stanley, the ‘Queen of the Net’, states that over the next five years “more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs.” We are adopting mobile devices at a much faster rate than we did desktop devices. Although Flash developers can create great interactive experiences on a desktop, if we take a step back and look at the future of our interaction with the web, this becomes totally irrelevant.

Business Insider conducted two surveys on iPad users and compared results, with surprising findings. Since the first survey, more users polled consider it their primary computer, using it mostly for browsing the Internet, with an increase in usage over time (a sign that nobody misses the inability to view Flash on the web). 29% of them have downloaded over 50 apps for the iPad. These apps will most likely replace online games that have been the bulk of Flash work on the web as well.

Adobe’s Response

Adobe edge screenshot

Adobe Edge’s editing environment

Adobe has recently rolled out their newest product, Edge. Edge creates ‘animated web content using HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript with ease, power and precision’. However, it is still in its pre-beta stage, so while it has received a good response so far, its adoption by web designers remains to be seen. They had also announced an eventual Flash-to-HTML-canvas feature for Flash. However, it was not made an actual feature of CS5 and will likely integrate to CS6. Both of these steps can be seen as an admission on the part of Adobe that Flash is likely going the way of the dodo.

In all, our newest digital revolution–that of moving from a desktop-based viewing environment to a mobile one–spells the end for design dinosaurs like Adobe Flash.

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  • Patrick Holmes

    I’ve had an iPhone for over three years now and haven’t missed being able to view flash once. It seems like less and less sites are using flash, making almost everything available without it. We avoid flash because our analytics tell us that a large portion of our audience is accessing our site using an iPhone. I’m personally glad that Apple has pressed this issue and forced web designers to move away from Flash, and on to more stable platforms.

    September 22, 2011 at 5:40 pm
    • Aimee Whatley

      I couldn’t agree more, Patrick. By refusing to lower their standards to appeal to a mass audience, they’ve raised the bar for accessible, standards-based design overall.

      September 23, 2011 at 7:05 pm
  • DPC


    Flash was developed to be a write-once-run-anywhere standard.

    HTML5 is already fragmented, which in turn defeats the purpose of “web standards”.

    A simple web search will reveal sites discussing plenty about this issue, which should have been predicted long ago by experts, as previous iterations of HTML had been fragmented by vendors. HTML5 will be no different, and already is no different. And it will get worse.

    Apple has done nothing, except continue and exacerbate the problem, while aiming at competition. After all, what would you rather do: Play games for free? Or spend $4 (of which $1.30 goes to Apple off the top) to get it?

    October 4, 2011 at 1:05 am
    • Aimee Whatley

      @DPC: Hopefully, as ambassadors of standards-based design continue to showcase the elegant and functional designs possible with HTML5 the browsers will continue to feel pressure to fully support it. Most browser manufacturers are all-too-happy to support a mutual set of standards, which is why for years they supported Flash. However, Flash’s drawbacks were many, and as truly equal alternatives have come on the scene it’s become an obvious choice to most web teams to go with HTML, especially as our world becomes increasingly mobile.

      October 4, 2011 at 3:09 am

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