Adobe Shifts Flash Focus

(Try saying that title after a few drinks!)

Flash has reached a crossroads. It’s been the only reliable rich-media delivery platform for the past decade but the technology is being attacked on several fronts:

  • HTML5. Native browser audio, video and features such as canvas provide an alternative to Flash. They’re not without their own set of issues but are backed by many large IT companies.
  • Apple. Whether it was technical, commercial or political reasons, Apple banned Flash on the iPhone and iPad. That policy ultimately led to Adobe abandoning Flash on mobile devices (although AIR can still be used to create cross-platform ‘native’ applications).
  • Competing plugins. To a lesser extent, alternatives such as Microsoft’s Silverlight and Google’s native client want a slice of Adobe’s market.

Developer opinions range from “HTML5 will never supersede Flash” to “Flash is dead and buried”. Personally, I think it’s good to have a range of options but the days of Flash being the only contender are long gone. Which is why it’s refreshing to see a little commercial honesty in Adobe’s roadmap for the Flash runtimes.

Adobe is shifting focus to gaming and premium video. The company believes Flash is particularly suited to those markets and is concentrating its efforts accordingly:

Increasingly, rich motion graphics will be deployed directly via the browser using HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript and other modern web technologies. While the primary role of Flash Player as an engine for innovation on the web remains the same, what it is used for will change.

Adobe believes that the Flash runtimes are particularly and uniquely suited for two primary use cases: creating and deploying rich, expressive games with console-quality graphics and deploying premium video.

This shift in focus for Flash does not mean that existing content will no longer run, or that Flash cannot be used for content other than gaming and premium video. However, it does mean that when prioritizing future development and bug fixes, gaming and premium video use cases will take priority.

My favorite quote:

Adobe believes that Flash is the game console for the web

It’s a sensible move. Reliable native video is a few years away; vendors are yet to agree on a single codec and IE8 usage will remain high until Windows XP dies. You can use Flash as a fallback but, if you’re doing that, there’s little point using a multitude of HTML5 formats.

HTML5 gaming is possible but can be a lot of effort — especially if you’re relying on newer technologies such as 3D transforms or WebGL. Flash offers a more consistent platform although the gap is narrowing.

Adobe is reassuring Flash developers that the runtime will meet their needs over the next five to ten years. If you’re using Flash now, there’s no immediate reason to panic (unless your audience is primarily mobile users). Ironically, Flash’s advantages will dwindle to nil once Adobe’s own development tools can export native HTML5. The plug-in will become irrelevant but that doesn’t mean ActionScript and its associated technologies can’t be used.

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  • http://www.gotmilk.com wonderblunder

    I had been developing AS2/AS3 solutions for the pas 10 years or so, and about year ago, I pulled the plug on Flash development. A lot of things have changed in the industry. I wouldn’t say that Flash is dead and done with, because there standalone applications/games that will still require Flash and Flex. But for sure, Flash will not be my preferred tool for browser driven RIA solutions. I still cannot imagine “pbskids.org” or such existing without Flash.

  • http://www.lemieux-design.net Al Lemieux

    The company I work for uses Flash as the main vehicle for delivering custom marketing surveys. Without Flash, we wouldn’t have a product at all and there’s no way in hell that HTML5 could easily replace it.

    I’m actually encouraged that Adobe is shifting focus. Maybe we’ll actually get a better Flash Player, better tools and debugging, and improvements on ActionScript.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      You couldn’t deliver surveys in HTML5 (or any flavor of HTML)? I find that difficult to believe!

      • Jason

        No. Not with the same quality of user experience. Ajax is a slow turtle crossing the road begging to be run over.

      • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

        Ajax is a technique — not a technology. If surveys were slow owing to data transmissions that would affect Flash too. Besides, Ajax can be handled in the background or you could avoid it completely.

      • Jason

        Indeed. But it’s a poor solution to fundamental problem – Static dead lifeless state of HTML. JavaScript is the slow turtle (don’t modern browsers talk me! still slow).

        AJAX can be handled in the background until another link is clicked… then it’s gone.

        I’m not convinced that trying to drag the lifeless corpse of HTML into the web application realm is wise. Not when there are other RIA solutions.

  • http://twitter.com/theworkinglemon Christopher Dolphin

    I’m a few months in to learning AS3. I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the fundamentals and I’ve been thinking about whether I should continue learning more about Flash and Actionscript or just shift over to HTML5. The past couple days made up my mind. If Adobe is going to push console quality 3D games for flash then that’s where I want to be, especially after the newest announcements for Flash Player 11.2 and Air 3.2.

    • Jason

      Exactly. HTML5 is Flash from 2002 (Flash 5), welcome to 10 years ago HTML ;)

      With ActionScript, Apache (formally Adobe) Flex and Adobe AIR you can create some amazing applications. While HTML5 2d games chugga-lug, you can make amazing 3d games with Flash. You don’t need the Flash plugin, all you need is Adobe AIR which is turning out to be amazing!

      With the web design industry crumbling away, the gaming industry is making billions and billions.

  • http://www.webmosis.net CMS Dude

    I think adobe should be focusing on Flash as a means of authoring HTML5 / SVG animation.

    The only real issue with flash is it’s output — the .swf file. When people say “flash is dead,” it doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end of “flash” as an animation-development tool, does it? Any more than the decline of the .gif file means the end of Photoshop. :-)

    Right now, there are no decent tools that I know of for authoring vector animations in SVG or Canvass format. Are we really going to see web animation shifting to math geniuses programming animations with thousands of lines of code on their IDEs? Adboe Flash would be the most logical tool for developing that kind of animation. Just output it to html5 canvass or svg code rather than an .swf. Is there something else I’m missing?

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Exactly my point. If the Flash development tools could output solid HTML5, canvas, SVG, JavaScript, etc. there wouldn’t be any need for the Flash player. It’d work everywhere – even on Apple devices – and they’d never need to update the plugin.

      We’re a few years from that being reality but, if Adobe can pull it off, it’ll extend the life of Flash, ActionScript and their related technologies.

    • rod

      Agreed here too.

      • samanime

        That’s pretty much what they are doing with Adobe Edge. Right now they are pitching it as a separate product, but I think it’s fairly likely that in the coming years it will merge with Flash in one way or another to create Flash/AS2 that runs on HTML5.

    • rick

      Absolutely agree! And Apple has cut off users from millions of pieces of Flash content. Not exactly what the WWW(world wide web) is supposed to be about. But now you’d have to be a programming genius to be able to do some of the things Flash can do, and do easily in a graphical interface. This probably means the quality and variety of content will drop. Hence the prevalence of image rotators out there that are boring vs. Flash content that was much more interesting.

  • dis Mayed

    I am back to developing in HTML/Javascript. I feel it is really a shame and a serious mistake that Flash was not included in the iphone or ipad’s default browsers. However, I want the websites that I am creating to be seen on smart phones. I loved all the wonderful, custom, interactions that I used to create with Flash. I cannot see that HTML 5 will ever come close to Flash.
    I feel that what has happened with Flash is:”One small step back ward for man; one giant leap back ward for mankind.”

    • rod

      Agreed.

  • Potsed

    One point that keeps getting missed in all of these “flash is dead long live flash” articles is the Announcement by Steven Sinofsky of Microsoft about IE10+Win8 Found here http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2011/09/14/metro-style-browsing-and-plug-in-free-html5.aspx Where in essence they are dropping support for plugins. Yes you will probably still be able to use FF or Chrome etc, but the fact that the most used browser on Win8+IE10+ will stop using plugins is rather big and just another nail in the .swf format.

    Yes I also believe that the flash development tool will continue to be a big player, but only if the the focus is shifted to exporting html+js+svg+canvas etc. as was already mentioned.

  • http://webofawesome.com Nicholas Johnson

    If it doesn’t work for mobile, it doesn’t work, period. Mobile is the fastest growing sector. Flash on the web died the moment the iPhone was released.

    That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a place, in developing native apps for instance, but it has no place on the internet anymore.

    It also doesn’t mean it’s no good. The development tools are still way ahead of html5, but give it a year and we’ll get there.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Mmm, I’m not totally convinced about that. While developers are obsessed with the iPhone, 80% of mobile users have another device which supports Flash. Mobiles currently account for 9% of all web access. At best, the iPhone has an 2% market share but it’s disproportionately represented across the web.

      That said, mobiles aren’t ideal platforms for Flash and Adobe has recognized that. Over the long term, the plugin will become increasingly irrelevant as mobile use rises and HTML5 becomes a viable alternative.

  • http://www.mediaflux.com Charles Ajemian

    If Apple had included Flash in the iPhone there would be no App Store. Flash Developers on the web would have very quickly adjusted there apps to accommodate touch screens… instead of learning O-C and redeveloping Flash Apps for the iPhone – Brilliant Move, Steve-o!

  • Johnny Meulemans

    Remark by a user and not a developer. About web games in Flash or HTML5: the site mentioned below offers a web game entirely made in HTML5 and JavaScript.. Try it, it’s free… Even on my i7 with a Radeon HD5870 it crawls… For web games: only the Flash and Java applet technologies run as smoothly as required for a nice user experience. (http://en.lagoonia.com/)

    • me

      Using a badly written game to support your argument doesn’t alter the fact that really good games are being created and without having to learn code.
      Have a look at these samples to see what can be done. Oh and you don’t need to sign up to look at these
      http://www.scirra.com/construct2/demos

  • Kise S.

    while i really don’t like Flash, i don’t see it dying anytime soon, as long as HTML5 doesn’t have some sort of DRM to protect the content, also you have a problem with the way browsers companies feel they know what best for the users, to this day there is no cross support for even a free OS codecs such as OGG and Theora, i don’t see them agree to support anytime soon, and i don’t feel like converting our close to 1TB videos to 3 different codecs anytime soon , right now we have mp4 with flash fallback, unless they ALL browsers Mobile or desktop start supporting at least the same codec i wont be changing my way of doing things