Flash Could Spark a Mobile-Device Bonfire

Adobe’s Flash has been go-to for years. I’ve viewed Flash content. I’ve even produced my own do-it-yourself videos using Flash. Enabling high-def and full-screen Flash-based capability, on YouTube.com, has definitely improved that user experience.

There’s a darker side to the Flash infrastructure, that I suspect is driving a move away from this once-strong, pseudo-standard, over to HTML5.

Could there be a mobile app vs. mobile Web app blaze on the horizon?

I’m a Linux guy, through and through. Over the last decade, I’ve written hundreds of Linux technical how-to articles and application reviews, for large-scale tech media sites and several big industry print magazines. I’ve installed countless versions of Linux and desktop applications. Mozilla-flavored browsers, OpenOffice.org, various forms of Ubuntu have been my close friends for a long time. Most installs have gone smoothly… well, except for the usual things like the Nvidia drivers… and Flash.

I never could do much about the Nvidia drivers, because they were closed-source, proprietary, and absolutely necessary for the operation of my multi-core Intel-based notebooks. Fortunately, my accelerated Nvidia chips usually only required a simple late-model update to a new driver, after a new Linux system build, to put everything back on track. I grudgingly took the time, because I enjoyed having cool 3-D animations, multi-window spinning desktop cubes, and resilient, stretchy on-screen windows.

Flash for Linux has always seemed like a half-hearted effort on Adobe’s part. It’s been unpredictable. I never knew exactly when it would break. Sometimes it would work, sometimes not. I simply am not going to spend half a day researching why Flash stopped working after this or that upgrade by Firefox. Why does it work with the latest version of the Chrome browser, without fuss?

Lack of reliability and support have troubled Flash, since the beginning.

I think Adobe has read the writing on the wall, because support for Flash has just become infinitely more difficult with the proliferation of mobile applications on mobile devices.

It no longer makes sense for Adobe to try to write code for desktops (Windows, Macs, and Linux), tablets (Windows, Android, and iOS), and smartphones (Windows, Android, iOS, and others). Yes, I know it’s supposed to seamlessly work across all platforms.

Pushing movies and animations from Flash over to a possibly universal standard, like HTML5, should make it easier for developers to create applications for the mobile world. That’s if they stick with browser-based applications.

The whole ecosystem built around mobile, non-browser-based applications might be a different story, according to Rafe Needleman of ZDNet. His “Will HTML5 Kill Mobile Apps?” story suggests that getting rid of Flash in favor of HTML5 is bad for “app store”-based software.

Perhaps, the demise of Flash and ascent of HTML5 will clear out some old undergrowth and create exciting new opportunities.

As the Dice Mobile Development Guide, my job is to get the community talking with each other. So, here are a few questions to break the ice.

  • Will mobile developers immediately move over to become mobile Web developers?
  • Will the “app store” model of promoting and selling software be eliminated because of HTML5?
  • Does a “pay wall app store” make any sense?
  • As manufacturers ramp up horsepower in their mobile devices, will all apps eventually live strictly on the Web?
  • How will developers get paid, with any or all of these schemes?

Now it’s your turn to throw either water or gasoline on the bonfire. Just keep it civilized.

5 Responses to “Flash Could Spark a Mobile-Device Bonfire”

  1. At least Adobe is paying attention to development trends. I think they’re a bit behind in this move but the possibilities for html are plenty. I think we will be seeing more “thin apps” in the future. I have no answer for how developers will be paid or any useful input on the paywall issue. I do think device makers will continue to build more power into their products.

  2. Rob Reilly

    No problem, I’m sure everyone knew you meant HTML5.

    Could you possibly expand on your thoughts about “thin apps”?

    At Dice we write articles and blogs in the WordPress editor. I wish there was an “undo” there. Ah, the joys of writing.

  3. You ask some good questions, but I think one of your premises is flawed. Flash wont die. Things that work don’t die out like that. The reason there are so many IE6 browsers still in the wild is that most people still prefer xp to vista and windows 7 and ie6 shipped with xp. And while I agree that flash has never given linux the love it deserved, it’s still the best way to create cross browser apps across pc and mac.

    Html5 support is still terribly fragmented and while I’m rooting for it, it still has a long way to go. I’m also a little skeptical that it will ever coalesce into consistent behavior across all the browsers out there. Most television and stereo equipment, with solid hardware standards, still don’t interoperate well and the reason is that it’s not in most companies interests to adhere to or follow standards.

    If you look at the successful part of what folk call html5 it’s really stuff like Jquery, where developers have eventually been able to overcome the browser incompatibilities and make them less visible. But it’s easier to fix language problems with additional code than it is to fix hardware level or native feature incompatibilities. How developers will overcome more difficult incompatibilities when, say some binary level image filter doesn’t work properly is going to be a whole new challenge. I actually wonder if folk will create a “Canvas” tag flash component in order to cover their users with ie6 as a fallback mechanism for graceful degradation.

    There are also still things you can do with the flash player that aren’t even planned for Html 5 by the way, things such as allowing the capturing and recording of audio and video from a users camera. That’s a great feature and one that is slowly becoming a must have feature for the multiplayer gaming market.

    So while new development should transition over time to html5 from flash, it’s naive to think that flash will just die.

    I do agree that if html5 lives up to it’s potential that it should pose the same threat to the app stores that the current casual flash games did until their recent announcement to give up on supporting it in the browser for all mobile devices.

    But there is a fundamental difference in the user experience between web apps and tablet or phone apps also. The phones and tablets thrive via their simplicity, but many apps and games are not simple for good reasons. One of my favorite games “The battle for wesnoth” is an open source game that I play a couple of times a week. And there is an ipad version of it that I bought years ago, but I can’t play it on the ipad, it’s just too much work.

    Similarly I’m currently trying to redesign an app to work on phones and tablets as well as the web and it’s a great challenge but a real challenge. Over time folk will need to come up with an entire new set of ui conventions in order to unify the two spaces with the same code and that will take a few years and probably some trial and error. Just the additional work to use the virtual keyboard is a problem for data heavy apps.

    The pay for apps thing does make sense though. Especially for developers. If you look at how console game markets have grown and collapsed historically you learn that the reason that console manufacturors try to control who has sdks for their apps is that when everybody can develop, the profit margin grows so small that eventually markets collapse.

    Anyway those are my two cents. But it’s definitely an important set of questions that you ask. It should be interesting to see how it plays out.