Days have passed, and I have deliberately not commented that much on the debate that has raged the net since Adobe Systems announced, that they wouldn’t continue the mobile Flash Player. What I have done, was observing the different phases of emotion that users where sharing with the rest of us. I saw mainly 3 categories: 1. Those who wan’t Flash dead yesterday, and didn’t think that this was one day too early. 2. Those who thought that this was the end of the World as we know it, and everything now turns to darker times (scenes with polluted cities and numb faceless people dragging them self around next to grey walls pops into my mind). 3. People with everything has it’s time – let’s see if it isn’t best for both part – sort of people. Let me first comment a bit on all three:
1. The “HA-HA. Dead by HTML5″-people
A lot of these people do not like Flash – no matter what it does … it is just pure evil. Some may have the program to crash their machine – other may just have heard of people who has a crash on their machine while Flash was installed. This group have made a choice not to support the platform on their device – or at all. If they have an iOS system, the choice is taken for them – they cannot decide for themselves. They see blank spots on websites, and think that the Internet should adapt to their needs and limitations (like iOS ever would the other way around) The other part of the group are praising the open standards, and think that proprietary plug-ins are a bad thing – the Internet should be free, and no one should take ownership of any part of the experiences presented.
2. The “End of the world”-people
Well, Adobe did an awful job, communicating this announcement, and people just shimmed and was something like “OK, let’s see: Adobe announces … etc. etc. … Flash Pl… … Mobile … Discontinue … etc. etc. … Open Web … Webkit … HTML5 ”
… AARRRRGH. Flash is dead. HTML5 killed it. Uuuh, Steve Jobs, you son of a #¤%#%& – are you happy now!! The next Apple fanboy that comes around, better be sorry or I’ll …
Well, maybe not that crazy, but a few words, where enough to make them go crazy, instead of rational thought of what their own mobile habits where. When we read what is gone, we also need to sum up, what is left. This has to be taken to a higher point of view, to understand the purposes (as I see them)
When Flash isn’t on mobile browsers, then whats next – desktop? … Linux? (oh, already) … AIR? … Illustrator and Photoshop?! Fact was, that the most recent Flash player on mobile browsers actually performed quite well on newer smartphones, so why? We wan’t the whole web. Everybody want the whole web – or do we?
3. The “Let’s see if it’s not for the best”-people
This group, have a habit of taking announcements up for consideration, and think of consequences and reasons for a given action. They may have various reasons for being in this group, but it could be something like: “I am not browsing that much on my phone – mostly searching information”, “I’m more into Apps”, “Drop all the fancy stuff, and give me some battery time back” or “HTML5 can do a lot of Flashy looking stuff – why not use that instead”.
A change in plans
When the iPhone came around, there was no Flash Player, that could stand up for The Jobs … so he turned it down. Having great interest in the Canvas-tag (read, previously patent, AFAIK), he thought that this was a better solution. Flash would lead to a poorer experience – how true that was. What he forgot to tell was, that it probably wasn’t solely a problem for the plug-in, but more a problem of bringing all the advanced stuff into a tiny phone with a tiny battery. You didn’t hear him say: “But that tends to be a general problem. We cannot do that with HTML5, either!” The fact was, that the advanced features of the Flash Player just didn’t fit well in these first generations of devices (both Android and iOS). Adobe thought that the “code once and deliver everywhere” should be adhered. They ported it to Android, that is more open than iOS and allows people to develop to the browser.
iOS on the other hand, had great success with the walled garden, and the term I call “iWay, or the highway”. In this closed ecosystem, things are taken care of for you, and you should have trouble doing all the things a computer should do … just what people wanted. Installation and removing Apps is easy … we actually think, that it cleans up, after itself, when we delete the App Icons and folders for tools and games. Why go to the web to search for a recipe or play a game, when you can install and access it right on the phone – why use a browser for that, and remember URL’s etc.
Adobe was wrong, and realized it
Adobe kept trying to fulfill the promise of the full web, and code once and deliver everywhere. Apple said, they had the full web experience on iOS, ignoring the fact that it wasn’t true. And while the battle raged, and the fanboys where mooning each other, the normal users started to adapt and use the technology on it’s own premises.
Even though the possibility was there, no one created mobile specific solutions in Flash. You just couldn’t scale a website down to a little screen and bring the same experience from desktop to phone – Flash Player is a media container like video and images. It has a hard time, reflowing text or layout, when the browser size changes. When a demanding webpage finally came around, it was so FWA-like that it would pop out the battery from the back-cover on my device.
On the other hand, the user was downloading and shopping Apps in an extends hard to imagine. It was so easy to link to AppStore or Android Market from a website, and install directly on the phone. I have the feeling that a lot of users found it as an improvement to download an App from the site, to get some dedicated time with the content even after they have left the webpage.
The device isn’t ready
Flash has always been a plug-in for HTML and browsers. Images and video are easy to relate to HTML, but Flash is a bit harder. The main purpose of Flash is to take the user to experiences, the HTML can’t go. When HTML stops, Flash player is supposed to take over and deliver a media container, showing what’s really possible … but it is just a square on a web page. The demand for more and more sophisticated pages has previously driven HTML into the shadow, and made complete Flash-driven pages a viable solution, when trying to impress clients and end users.
Fact is: Devices sucks at that. Most devices can’t even handle HTML5 and canvas that well, and if we have a technology, that have more than enough to do with HTML in its newest revision, then there is no need for a “I’ll take over from here”-plugin like Flash.
Realizing that users didn’t used the browser on their mobile device for advanced content, but rather downloaded Apps, is for me a breaking point. Some tend to say that it was Steve Jobs, and his famous letter on Flash and his thoughts about it, that did the job. To some extend that may be right – not because he said it, but because his disciples kept preaching it as a gospel every time e person pushed the button. I think the main reason is that Apps came on strong, and users didn’t wan’t these complex operations in a floating window … not when it was performing like it did. Everything with App was fast and smooth, but the same experience on the net was not. I am convinced that we will not see any complex HTML5 solutions in browsers, before we have a completely new generation of devices in our hand.
That leaves the net to HTML, and with HTML5 it has just brought more possibilities to the developers. Flash player is out of the browser (for some time at least) because it has nothing to do there. Flash Player 11.x is still there, so there will be plenty of possibilities for targeting mobile users in the future – don’t worry. But Adobe is taking Flash to places, where HTML5 cant go (at least not easily). The only place that can be done is on computers, that has more processing power, and a power cord, and to mobiles native applications. Only there, can Flash tap into the hardware that is needed to deliver great performance.
AIR is what’s taking care of that, and I think that it has a few advantages. If you target iOS native you are using Objective-C. If you are targeting Android, you are using Java. No developer on any of these platforms are able to deliver to the other side. AIR comes with the APPS-neutral AS3 language, that can be compiled to native Apps for both Android and iOS, and it is more and more important to support a wide range of platforms as the market shares levels out. Performance are better in native code, but I am pretty sure, that is a main focus for Adobe in the future.
Are we gonna play, or what?
games are another main aspect, that I see Adobe pays attention to. With the new 3D-capabilities and export functionality from Unity and other, I see browser based games on desktops as an interesting way to go. The way we play on a computer, is far from the way we entertain our self on a device – they cannot be matched. It is therefore Adobe is trying to make a plugin, that make games, independent on machine or browser, so you can develop a game, and make sure that all desktops can play it. How many games in HTML5 aren’t available, that only plays in Chrome or Safari etc. … I don’t think the browser war is ever gonna stop on that platform. When the player can utilize gamepads and joysticks, I think that we are going to see interesting games … and event sites, and company pages, that takes it to the max, and wouldn’t play on a desktop anyway.
I think that Adobes step is probably a way to “code once and deliver everywhere”. When Creative Suite next revision arrives (the six-pack) I think we will see Flash Professional, that takes the timeline and possibilities around that, and enables it to be converted to HTML5 – if that succeed, then what’s the harm. I mean, is it the player or the possibilities, that are most important. Then we will go way high on 3D and native App performance, and Flash as a platform is able to live on. Using HTML5 for mobile may be the only solution to “publish everywhere” in a non-plugin-browser-world.
I think that Adobe made a wise choice in taking the Flash Player out of market for a while. That can take all the browser Ads to HTML and get the devices to mature to a point, where there is more in the devices, that HTML5 can deliver. In the meantime Adobe can try to incorporate elements to HTML, that makes it easier to publish from Flash to HTML – CSS Shaders is a sign in that direction.
It all comes down to looking at behaviors, and identify objective, non-favored points of direction in them. I think that Adobe shifting focus here, is not a sign of weakness, but actually a sign of adapting to the users need – some companies could probably learn from that. Their skills in communicating, what I just tried here, is a completely different story. I am not saying, I do a great job here, but I know that Adobe didn’t.