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End of an era3

Almost a year ago, I wrote a draft of an article about Flash, and how its days were numbered. I never got round to finish it, but as I witnessed quite a few bloggers queueing up to carry Flash’ coffin to the grave recently, I thought I’d revisit it. So here is what I jotted down back then, more or less unedited except for some grammar here and there.

I seem to be part of a minority. The minority that wouldn’t necessarily want a Flash player on our Breakthrough Internet Communications Device™. There are a couple of evolutions and innovations emerging these days however that may signal a tipping point. It is my opinion that we have come to the time where Flash is losing momentum and relevance.

Flash was not built for handheld devices, both in terms of speed and interface. They can probably improve the speed a bit1 but I fail to see a comfortable way of interacting with the full extent of Flash movies available on a multitouch, mouseless device. A video player, sure, that might work, as well as most of the Flash ads – joy! But try visiting a proper, full-blown Flash website with your fat fingers. Or a game with lots of tiny click areas. Welcome to usability hell.

Some argue that it’s better to have half the experience rather than none. So that you can find that little piece of information on that simple site that should’ve been made with POSH2 in the first place. But then who are people going to complain to when some Flash website won’t work on their iPhone? Hint: it’s not Adobe.

In the end it all boils down to this: Flash is a closed, proprietary technology. You ought to know that when your are developing in Flash, you essentially depend on one multinational’s benevolence. And while I am far from an open source zealot, the web is all about open standards. And that’s exactly where some amazing evolutions are emerging. If you’ve attended or seen any of the Safari Sessions at this year’s WWDC, you have no doubt marvelled at the amazing technology demo’s. A showcase of the combined forces of HTML5 and CSS gradients, masks, reflections, transforms, transitions and 2D & 3D animations. And you have learned about the iPhone’s hardware accelleration of some of these properties.

Now read that last sentence again. Hardware accelleration for CSS properties. It’s hard to overestimate what that means. As some bright folks have noted before, Apple’s RIA platform is WebKit, and the iPhone is the playground. The future isn’t going to be a plugin, it’s the browser itself, along with the open standards it supports. It would be delusional to claim the iPhone is an open platform, but it’s in Apple’s best interests to keep the Internet open.

Maybe it’s not a big shock anymore, but it’s a very hot topic again in these iPad days. Perhaps John Gruber put it best by saying:

The problem for Flash is just like the problem for IE — the web has already moved on.

  1. Considering the fact that Flash on OS X consumes a multiple of the resources of a Vista machine. []
  2. Plain Old Semantic HTML []

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