Flash better not be dead

If rich internet applications have to start relying on HTML5 anytime soon, then a whole lot of educational content just became toast.

And not just because my day job is with a company that sells a Flash-based virtual classroom. Literally thousands of educational applications rely on Flash for rich interactivity that HTML5 simply can't match.

Jason Perlow (among other ZDNet writers) called out Adobe's announcement that it was ending development of Flash for mobile devices. Fortunately, this hardly translates to Flash's death. In fact, Flash on mobile has always been kludgy with native apps and Air applications providing a far better experience, in no small part due to the size of the screens involved.

Adobe hardly announced that it was killing off Flash altogether. They have deep investments in desktop Flash, as do countless developers who rely on the ease of development and incredibly rich feature set to achieve browser-based applications that can't be had any other way. Java has some traction here, but fragmentation of plugins and configuration issues mean that IT staff (especially overworked, underpaid staff in schools) don't relish Java software. And HTML5 is getting better quickly,

But as Adobe wrote in their official announcement this morning,

Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores...These changes will allow us to increase investment in HTML5 and innovate with Flash where it can have most impact for the industry, including advanced gaming [author's note: Including educational applications, games, and content] and premium video. Flash Player 11 for PC browsers just introduced dozens of new features, including hardware accelerated 3D graphics for console-quality gaming and premium HD video with content protection. Flash developers can take advantage of these features...to reach more than a billion PCs through their browsers and to package native apps with AIR that run on hundreds of millions of mobile devices through all the popular app stores

I have to say, I'm not terribly worried here about the future of Flash. Adobe's own tools make porting code written in Flex to Flash, Air, and native apps fairly straightforward. Tools to port to HTML5 are also emerging from Adobe. There is clearly going to be a slow evolution towards platforms that are universally supported across browsers, but to say that Flash is dead is like saying that mobile apps are dead because Adobe is moving to support HTML5 better.

Adobe is advancing an ecosystem of tools and platforms that talk nicely to each other and allow for parallel development, using, as it says, the capabilities of "HTML5 and Flash [which,]...together...offer developers and content publishers great options for delivering compelling web and application experiences across PCs and devices."

Is there marketing spin here? Of course there is. Adobe has invested a lot of capital (monetary, political, marketing, and otherwise) in mobile Flash and they didn't exactly come out and say they miscalculated. That being said, we're still a long ways from an HTML5 that can replicate the functionality of Flash.

I've already seen a fair amount of panic on various ed tech and web development listservs over the demise of Flash. There is plenty of time to take a deep breath, keep our eyes on developments in both platforms, and leverage existing work to ensure that educators continue to be able to use cutting edge web-based tools with Adobe underpinnings, regardless of the devices on which their students learn.

Also read:

Flash is dead. Long live HTML5. Adobe ceases development on mobile browser Flash, refocuses efforts on HTML5