(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:
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.
Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.
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