Over the weekend I've come across a lot of chatter about Adobe's Flash multimedia platform. Do we need it? Is it relevant?
I got news for you - for now, you're stuck with it.
I think that what's prompted this debate is the unveiling of Apple's new iPad. Why? Because just like the iPhone and the iPod touch, the iPad doesn't support the Flash platform. This raises several questions, such as, "Why doesn't the iPad support Flash?", "Can a device that doesn't support Flash deliver a rich web experience?" and "Is Flash still relevant?"
Let's take a closer look at some of these questions.
Why doesn't the iPad support Flash?
We don't know. There are two possibilities. One is that just like how Apple got rid of the floppy drive on Macs before almost anyone else did, Apple is again being innovative, trimming away unnecessary features. The other is that Apple, for whatever reason, can't get Adobe to properly support its iPhone platform.
Which is most likely? Despite Apple's history of trimming away the fat, I find it hard to believe that Apple is ready to cut Flash adrift just yet. Some speculate that Apple doesn't want Flash on the iPhone OS because it's a security risk. Maybe, but to be honest, I don't think this is likely.
Whatever the reason, this lack of Flash support has left Steve Jobs having to resort to smoke and mirrors sleight of hand to convince us that a web without Flash is still a rich web experience.
Which leads us nicely to the next question ...
Can a device that doesn't support Flash deliver a rich web experience?
Here's the way I see it. The screen on the iPhone is pretty small, so small that most things that we use Flash for (games, eye candy) wouldn't work scaled down to that size. This means that there's little pressure on Apple from, say, Facebook users wanting to be able to play Fame Town or Happy Aquarium while on the move.
But what happens when users are faced with a nice, big 9.7 inch screen? The kind of screen that looks idea for playing all those Flash games on? Looking at the iPad, I'd instinctively expect it to work like a regular browser. Why not? Be giving the iPhone OS the same rendering engine that's present in the Safari web browser, Apple's made mobile web browsing look and feel like desktop web browsing ... the noticeable exception being Flash.
I still believe that a web browsing experience that doesn't include Flash isn't a rich web experience. What remains to be seen is how folks who buy the iPad will feel about web - Flash, and who will they blame for this glaring omission.
Is Flash still relevant?
Now this is the $64,000 question. I think that it depends on what kind of web user you are, but I think it's safe to say that for the majority of users, Flash is a key part of the web. Sure, there are upsides to not having Flash (greater security, fewer updates, no annoying Flash-based ads ... ), but there are a lot of downsides, such as no games, streaming video, interactivity.
Sure, there are technologies that could replace Flash, such as HTML 5, but for now, we're stuck with Flash, and to a lesser extent, Microsoft's competing technology Silverlight. These technologies are key to delivering content over the web. Of course, Apple wants you to buy content through iTunes rather than get it through other sources, but with that big screen and a browser built right into the device, not having Flash support is is going to be big surprise for quite a few users.
What are your thoughts on Flash?