Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

Summary: Software developer Joseph Labrecque points towards a bright, positive outlook regarding Adobe Flash and AIR technologies on mobile devices, the desktop and the Web.


Software developer Joseph Labrecque points towards a bright, positive outlook regarding Adobe Flash and AIR technologies on mobile devices, the desktop and the Web.

This article is the result of an invitation to offer a response article to Jason Perlow's One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

While I do not necessarily disagree with all of the observations put forward in the article, I do strongly disagree with the title, focus, and central premise. In full disclosure; I've been making a living off of Flash Platform technologies for over a decade.

Point being: I have a strong affinity to the Adobe Flash Platform and have a bright, positive outlook regarding the long-term future of my platform of choice.

It is important to keep things in perspective when discussing mobile technologies. Smartphones and tablets are still a very new area and we are all only now discovering how these devices can be integrated into our lives in a productive way.

We are also just beginning to discover what works and what does not work on these devices from a technological standpoint. They all have high-resolution screens, are using aging energy cell technology, run on minimal versions of an operating system, yet are our constant companions throughout the day.

Some tasks that we take for granted when using a desktop machine are poorly implemented in a small form factor, while others are spectacularly refined and directed, such as TweetDeck on Android. It is a balancing act right now and most of the industry players involved are doing an excellent job walking this tightrope.

The amazing thing is that in some ways, these devices do provide a level of experience that is, at times, very close to that of their desktop counterparts. I know that Flash Player runs most content quite well on my Motorola DROID and even better on the DROID2. We have near parity of features across multiple screens: desktop, smartphone, tablet, and the digital living room. That is quite an achievement!

This point is often lost on those who only see Flash as a technology for creating banner ads and watching videos. As a platform, Flash continues to push ahead with stunning innovation while retaining full backwards compatibility with existing content even content produced with FutureSplash Animator!

Consider this: while the current crop of mobile devices are still in their early stages, they are still incredibly underpowered when compared with desktop or laptop machines. Yet, Stage3D (Molehill) functionality was recently displayed running upon an older model Samsung Galaxy Tab during the FITC conference in Toronto this past week.

This is the same 3D functionality that has been available to desktop users through the Incubator program on Adobe Labs, but running upon a severely underpowered machine. That is really something of significance. As devices get faster, we can expect Flash to take advantage of this as well.

Have you tried to run some of the more intensive HTML/Javascript experiences on an iPhone or iPad? These experiments will bring the device to a crawl. Should be blame Webkit for this poor performance? Of course not; there is an understanding that the device is underpowered and cannot process the experience quickly enough to provide the ideal experience.

It is no different with Flash Player on those devices which may run with slower processors. The important take-away here is that Flash Platform runtimes run really well right now on this current generation of smartphones and as these devices become more powerful coupled with future platform innovation we have a killer platform on our hands.

Users of iOS understand that there are limitations on that platform -- they accept these limitations and use the devices for what they are capable of, not for what they are incapable of. When given a choice, I believe most users would want to decide for themselves whether or not to install something like Flash Player on a device.

Considering how personal smartphones and tablets have become -- it really is an affront to the dignity of the user to deny them, by corporate policy, the choice of doing so. Thoughts on Flash is often brought up as if gospel but in truth there are many problems with all of the points brought up by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

[Next: Going beyond "Thoughts on Flash"]»

As noted by Jason in his original article, with the BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM and Adobe have done a tremendous job working together to create a device that really integrates well with the Flash Platform through both the Flash Player in the browser, and AIR with standalone apps. Apple is an innovator -- there are really, really smart people working there.

If Apple were to join the Open Screen Project and work collaboratively with Adobe in crafting a Flash experience on iOS, they could produce something really spectacular. All it takes is some friendly cooperation and a willingness to make things better to emerge with a stellar product.

When people purchase an iDevice, they generally know by now that they are not going to be able to view Flash content. They buy them anyway because they understand that with such a device there is a compromise to be had. Sure, they might have to bring up a laptop to interact with an experience built in Flash, but this is offset by the fact that iOS is providing them with additional experiences that they don't access from their standard desktop machine.

I own a couple Android smartphones and a BlackBerry PlayBook. I do not expect a desktop-equivalent experience on any of these devices, but I am okay with that because they do provide me something else; portability, directed experiences, and new ways to approach day-to-day problems. It's great that all of the devices I own run Flash content and I am glad to have that choice.

About the Author: Joseph Labrecque (@josephlabrecque) is primarily employed by the University of Denver as a senior interactive software engineer specializing in the Adobe Flash Platform, where he produces innovative academic toolsets for both traditional desktop environments and emerging mobile spaces. Alongside this principal role; he often serves as adjunct faculty, communicating upon a variety of Flash Platform solutions and general Web design and development subjects.

In addition to his accomplishments in higher education, Joseph is the proprietor of Fractured Vision Media, LLC; a digital media production company, technical consultancy, and distribution vehicle for his creative works. He is founder and sole abiding member of the dark ambient recording project "An Early Morning Letter, Displaced" whose releases have received international award nominations and underground acclaim.

Joseph has contributed to a number of respected community publications as an article writer and video tutorialist and is author of the forthcoming "Flash Development for Android Cookbook".

He regularly speaks at user group meetings and industry conferences such as Adobe MAX, FITC, and D2WC. In 2010, he received an Adobe Impact Award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the education community. He has served as an Adobe Education Leader since 2008 and is also a 2011 Adobe Community Professional.

Topics: Tablets, Software Development, Smartphones, BlackBerry, Mobility, Mobile OS, Hardware, Google, Enterprise Software, Apple, Android


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Silverlight > Flash

    The inferiority of Flash is most evident on low-energy devices, like a Windows 7 Ultimate tablet or an Android tablet.

    On a highy compact mobile device, HD video readily drops frames in Flash, so many videos on the web are very jumpy. On Silverlight the experience is much smoother, and indeed Smooth Streaming is one way to eliminate the problem.

    No wonder Apple still refuses to support Flash on iPhone and iPad.
    Tim Acheson
    • And the linked 'problems' with Jobs' 'Thoughts on Flash' are nipticking

      @Tim Acheson: every major point done in Jobs' article is fair (few minor "incorrectnesses" do not change the picture).<br><br>Specifically, there is Mike Chambers guy who goes great lengths to convince that Flash "moveover" and "rollover" sites work fine under touch UI in his Android, but fails to record that on video.<br><br>That is because in most of sites -- if you are on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and you do not have these events -- you have to click on the first-level menu item instead of seeing the menu to expand that would allow you to choose actual submenu item you want.<br><br>The video would have shown that user has to tap on first-level menu, loading separate page, from where he would tap the submenu item.<br><br>And all of that if size of Flash-powered menu is big enough because many flash sites are tiny in UI and <b>do not scale.</b>
      • Known unknowns

        Whether or not a Flash app scales is a design choice made by the programmer. It can scale absolutely, scale as well as possible while maintaining aspect ratio, or not scale at all, depending on how a property is set.

        Please do not make definitive comments <b>in bold type</b> unless you are reasonably sure that you know what you're talking about. If you don't know what you don't know, just leave that part out.
        Robert Hahn
      • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

        @denisrs <br>You clearly didn't read Mike's post. He linked to this video in there: <a href="http://blog.theflashblog.com/?p=2027" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://blog.theflashblog.com/?p=2027</a>.<br><br>Anything else? <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/happy.gif" alt="happy">

        Thought I'd add another link for you: http://blog.digitalbackcountry.com/2010/05/examples-of-flash-content-running-on-android/.
      • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

        @denisrs You're wrong. Rollover events work perfectly on Android and IOS. I just ported a Flash web app to Android and IOS today (Ipad1 & 2) and rollovers work perfectly using Adobe AIR. And scaling is a programming issue. If we want it to scale we can. It's another lie from Steve Jobs.
      • The linked video was absent in the Chamber's long post, but even then it ..

        @johncblandii: it showed exactly the type of behaviour I described about menus and submenus. Not user-friendly at all.

        Also, Chambers avoided these countless "stylish" tiny-UI unscalable Flash sites in the video.
      • The bolded text was is definitive, and I know what I am talking about

        @Robert Hahn: As I said, "many flash sites are tiny in UI and do not scale" -- that is indisputably correct.

        These Flash sites are done in raster graphics and they at times horrible for navigation even for usual PC -- on big/good resolution monitors.
    • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

      @Tim Acheson
      Ummm...you realize the Smooth Streaming is adaptive bitrate, right? It means it goes up and down based on bandwidth/system resources.

      Here is my rant of HD running just fine on an Evo [which is not as powerful as any tablet]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRS11rTVHAg.
    • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

      @Tim Acheson - given the iPad has 256MB of RAM when competition has 512MB or more, that MUST be taken into account as well - Apple usually likes to sell lesser quantity of hardware for the price (a $2500 MacBook Pro containing solely 4GB is fairly embarrassing these days, even if all the other specs are worthy).

      Having said that, in terms of raw processing power required, Flash still requires a LOT and needs to play "catch-up", though Adobe has been putting forth a strong effort, and there is far more to Flash than just playing movies or watching ads (which reminds me, nobody at the Apple stores (amongst other venues) has yet been able to answer how HTML5-based ads can be disabled, after their boastful bloviating on how they turn off Flash-based ads).

      I develop for Flash, on a Mac no less, but I won't be blind to either platform's shortcomings.
    • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

      @Tim Acheson I'd take on your argument of Flash vs Silverlight, except for one thing... Silverwhat? No one knows what that is. Steve Jobs sure doesn't. If he did, you can bet we'd see a Thoughts on Silverlight piece. <br><br>It just hasn't gained the market penetration necessary to succeed ...and the mothership/MS is already putting it on the back burner. Which is sad actually, because it actually could be a strong Flash competitor. I have a lot of respect for the platform. It's made great strides in just a few years. At least it has a modern, strongly-typed OOP language available...unlike HTML/JS.
  • Dear Tim Acheson,

    You didn't really read the whole article very carefully, huh?

    Edit: Looks like Johnny Vegas didn't either.
  • God I cant even remember the last time I let flash

    on any of my devices. youtube will keep it alive for another year or two but after that hopefully pretty much everyone will be using broswers that support video without flash and block ads...
    Johnny Vegas
  • Flash has life beyond Ads and Video

    Ads, TAKE THEM.<br>Video, TAKE THEM - oh, but give up streaming, subtitles (sorry those that are handicap), oneplayer, and a few other luxuries.<br><br>As a Flash developer of many years I can say that I have yet to make one ad and haven't made a single video player. And guess what? Business is good, and getting better.<br><br>For those in 3D games, check out the new 3D capabilities of Flash.<br><br>For those into rich content, nothing beats how Flash handles audio and video across platforms, devices, and browsers. Even the most talented JS developers admit that it's a pain with HTML5.<br><br>For those interested in applications. Check out Flex and see how you can easily make some of the richest internet applications with ease.<br><br>And for those that want to deliver content across screens. Look no further than Flash and AIR. Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Web, Desktop (mac/win/linux), TVs all are supported by the Flash Platform. (Not to mention things like cars, refrigerators, vending machines, etc.)<br><br>Ya, Flash has a life way beyond Ads and Video, and AIR is Everywhere. As someone that needs to get content out everywhere, there is no other platform with the reach and quality of Flash.<br><br>Oh, and when you have ads made by html that you can't block that are made badly and bring your machine to a halt - well, you reap what you sow.
    • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

      HTML can have all the crap developers too, while we're at it.
      Let them go after the shiny new thing while we have our robust and adapted platform.

      I had a LOT more to say, but this horribly written "Web 2.0" (or what most of you call HTML5 these days) allowed me to write without having fully verified my account. When I hit "reply" it cleared my content, and replaced it with an error telling me to verify my account...
      Granted this could happen in Flash as well, you typically are used to having stateful applications, so these types of things are rarer.
      Anyway... I'm over the idea of informing people of their short-sights on the HTML5-love. I say let them stay in the dark.
      • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever


        HTML5 is all well and good, but it is a standard and therefore inherently reactive. The boundaries will continue to be pushed by Flash, Silverlight, etc.
      • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

        @offsideInVancouver What standard you are talking about.What are these browser prefixes then ? Is this a standard what about choppy audio . Every browser implementing a standard in its own way. What about HTML5 video .We need to encode our video in at least 3 formats what is this ? Google pushing on webm rest are pushing on H264 . What a mess is this standard .
    • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

      @jonbcampos - well said, thank you! :)
    • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

      @jonbcampos I agree that there's no need for flash in either ads or video. In the latter case, Flash does nothing but slow down the rendering of an H.264 file the OS can render natively. This is an absurd situation which came about purely because of the shortcomings of HTML4 and IE6 in the 1990s.

      I accept that Flash is great at rich content. I don't agree that's it's full of bugs or a memory/cpu/battery hog as some say. There just isn't evidence for this. Steve Jobs is wrong on this.

      But I start to question whether people need "rich content" at all on the web. That's starting to look so 1995. These days people want facts and information, not flash-y animations. The web is not a gee whizz gimmick anymore, it's a business tool, a source of information. Plus tablets make it so easy to install native apps, why do you even need web apps?
      The Star King
  • RE: Op-Ed: Flash is still relevant; perhaps more so than ever

    Too many people have created opinions about Flash from what they are being told rather then researching the information or using a mobile device that utilizes it. A lot of this has to do with Apple, there's no other way to put it. I went to the Apple store on 5th ave in NYC & posted it onto YouTube <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xs1JS8b7p5A&feature=channel_video_title" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xs1JS8b7p5A&feature=channel_video_title" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xs1JS8b7p5A&feature=channel_video_title</a></a> I wanted to find out what the employees at Apple were telling customers about Flash. Let's just say they weren't the best resource to discuss Flash. And the problem with this is that a lot of people go to them for information. The more Adobe puts out factual information about the Flash platform the better it is for everyone. Thanks for writing an article about this.
  • Better off w/o Flash

    Adobe's challenge is not merely convincing people that Flash can meet performance expectations without cutting battery life if half. They have to convince people that Flash is sufficiently robust and hacker proof.