How Apple whipped Adobe Flash in less than 4 years

How Apple whipped Adobe Flash in less than 4 years

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Let’s be honest; Flash is not all bad. It’s a great platform to develop online games and it’s usually lightweight. Flash will enable you to create elaborate animations on your website and to create unique and striking interfaces. However, in the balance, the bad tends to surpass the good when it comes to Flash. And here’s why:

The Apple vs Flash war

It all started with Apple, one of the most remarkable pioneers of the smartphone industry. Since the release of the first iPhone and iPod Touch in the United States in 2007, Apple’s OS does not support Adobe Flash. While this initial decision caused a lot of frustration among the Apple users and the web design community, we adapted and even started supporting Apple, especially since the release of HTML5 (which can stream video online without Flash).

According to Steve Jobs, Apple does not need Flash, a closed system that performs badly on mobile devices, got the worst security records in 2009 and that is the culprit of many crashes when it comes to Mac computers. Flash has also been pointed out by Jobs as a battery drainer and does not support well multi-touch interface. Although Flash has insisted many times for Apple to integrate it, Steve Jobs never allowed it to happen since no improvements were done on Adobe’s part. On top of that, since 2010, Flash doesn’t come preinstalled on Apple computers anymore. It can easily remedied by installing the missing plug-in but it has become pretty clear that Mac pays no attention to Flash anymore.

This conflict between Adobe and Apple, combined with the recent release of HTML5 and CSS3, hurt Flash a lot. Less and less designers want to work with Flash and companies are strongly recommended against using this technology as their website will not be visible on most mobile devices. Why would they pay for a website that cannot be accessed? Unless a company has particular needs that can only be fulfilled with Flash (in my experience, that is extremely rare), there is no reason why they should limit themselves with such technology.

Why Flash isn’t the right solution

You should always use the right tool for the right project. In most cases, Flash is not the right solution when it comes to web design unless you want to work with online gaming or interactive movie-like components. We don’t recommend Flash for many reasons:

  1. Flash doesn’t do well on mobile devices: While iOS devices simply do not support Adobe Flash at all, some smartphones and tablets do have it enabled. The problem lies in Flash’s “shockingly bad performance”. According to Gigaom’s review, Flash on Android often did not load, froze up and, when it actually worked, showed choppy video and out-of-sync video and audio. Is that the kind of user experience you want for your mobile visitors? I doubt it.
  2. Flash and SEO don’t work well together: Flash technology is not handled by search engine spiders, resulting on low rankings in Google and blank page descriptions. The only way to go around that is to double work and create an HTML equivalent of your page in the background with all your content for Google to be able to fetch your information. It can work for static pages but don’t even dream about having your updated content indexed by Google; it’s not going to happen unless you go edit your HTML version every-single-time.
  3. Flash needs constant updating: Computers without Flash or its most recent versions will not be able to access a website using that technology. That can be very frustrating for visitors who are working in corporate environments and who have little control over the software updates of the computer they use. In other words: no Flash, no site.
  4. Flash doesn’t allow selecting or bookmarking: Because Flash deals with animations and movie-like content, it’s practically impossible to select any text found on the site or to bookmark its pages. Because of that, users will have to dig all over again on your site every time they want to access specific information.
  5. Back and forward are non-existent: Since Flash is a media embedded in a single page, it’s impossible to use the back and forward options on your browser to navigate. Clicking on one of the arrows will result in losing the entire website, a major navigational flaw found in too many Flash websites out there.
  6. Loading screens are horrible: Loading bars and screens are despised as a general rule by the viewers. If you make a heavy Flash website, you are doomed; your visitors won’t wait for it to load and may leave your page before even entering. I personally ditch Flash websites 2 times out of 3. Their loss, not mine.
  7. Flash animations, sounds and abuse: While Flash can be good in some very precise instances, it is too commonly used to display intrusive sounds and animations, forcing the users to desperately look for a way to stop it, especially if they are viewing the site in a public environment.

Overall, Flash, as you can see, is a bad idea. In academic institutions, it is being replaced by HTML5 and CSS3. Adobe Flash is losing market every day and unless they make changes, they will be reduced to a microscopic slice of the internet within a few years.

The future of Flash for iOS devices

But there’s still hope for Flash addicts. On September 8 2011, Adobe announced the release of Flash Media Server 4.5 and Flash Access 3.0. The new improvements to the software include streaming flash video, a revolution for mobile technologies as Flash currently runs on the devices themselves, resulting in choppy video at best. For Apple fans, that means they soon might be able to watch online Flash videos. For web designers using Flash though, this update of Flash Media Server will not bring the long awaited solution to displaying Flash websites on iOS devices but it’s at least baby step towards this future possibility.

If Flash acts quickly enough and improves its technology, it might just be able to save itself. But since it took 4 years and a painful downfall before they were able to release any decent improvement, don’t get your hopes up; you might be disappointed.

About the author

Tina Mailhot-Roberge is a graphic designer, illustrator and co-founder of Veodesign. She holds a BFA in Design from Concordia University, Montréal. She loves to help people and wirte about arts, design, web and technology. Find her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.