Oh noes! Not dirty Flash again!

Posted: 09/11/11

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You'll most likely have seen the frenzy of news around Adobe's announcement to discontinue development of the Flash Player mobile browser plugin. Adobe cited resources being better spent on improving the desktop player, the AIR runtime and new HTML5 tools.

Word of the day: Misinformation

Sadly, this wasn't the story that was printed across the Internet. Attention to detail went out of the window and Chinese Whispers took over - I was astounded by the way some highly reputable news outlets failed to research the story sufficiently to understand that Adobe didn't announce it was discontinuing Flash, just ceasing development of the Flash Player runtime for browsers on mobile devices and connected TVs. Development on AIR for Android/iOS, TVs and the Flash Player browser plugin for personal computers continues.

Be careful what you wish for

The delight and ecstasy witnessed in some blog posts and tweets was incomprehensible. Some people seemed to be revelling in the news that 750 people had been laid-off, while others seemed to be gleefully declaring the end of Flash and the triumph of HTML5. How anyone can welcome 750 individuals losing their jobs is beyond me, but these people should also be careful what they wish for "If hell froze over and Flash really did go away, do I really want all these talented Flash devs flooding into my development field?" Their skills translate perfectly for JavaScript. Irrespective of whether or not basic supply and demand eventually drives down the price of JavaScript developers, it seems pretty short-sighted for any employed person to be jubilant at another becoming unemployed - it can happen to anyone, and it's not nice.

No-one targeted Flash Player in the mobile browser

It's a strongly held view of mine that nobody really embraced the Flash Player mobile browser plugin. The plugin simply extended the web content that was available to personal computers onto mobile devices. I thought this was a nifty feature to have available to me, particularly if the site/service I was using didn't have a non-Flash version of their service. I want to be clear though, because no-one tailored these Flash experiences for my mobile device, they were inevitably cumbersome to use, and didn't pay much attention to the limited resources available on my device. The thinking is quite simple: If I'm going to invest the time and energy customising my Flash application for mobile devices, why don't I just deploy it as an app and get the extra bells and whistles that come with it? That's what many did, and that's why the Flash Player browser plugin for mobile devices became a bit of an anomaly to Flash developers, and Adobe.

A thorn in the side of the Flash Platform

Flash Player for mobile devices is also a legacy project that has been in existence long before any of the smartphones we're using today. Flash Lite was by and large a flop as Macromedia, and then Adobe, focused too heavily on the cheaper end of the mobile market. The runtime had to be installed by the device manufacturer, and so penetration relied on deals being closed between Adobe and CE companies, rather than on users making the decision to install. Time overtook the mobile Flash Player, and by the time Adobe had a variant that could run AS3.0, the app model was well entrenched on smartphones.

AIR changed things

I believe Adobe accepted that Flash Player on mobile devices wasn't going to float back in 2010 when they made it possible to cross-compile Flash applications to native iOS applications. This nod to apps running as native applications - as opposed to apps running in the browser - was going to directly compete with the Flash mobile plugin. No-one knew whether AIR for Android/iOS would gain traction it now has and I see little point in them continuing development of a mobile browser plugin that developers didn't really embrace. Most of the "oh noes" about the discontinuation of the Flash Player plugin for Android were from users - some of them genuinely feel their full-web experience will be curtailed by this move. I'm less concerned.

It's good to talk about Flash

Something worth thinking about is how much conversation there is about Flash. There are many technologies that the public at-large have never heard of or even care about. It's tough being a big, prominent part of the Internet, and Flash will always attract its critics. I'd liken Flash to the X Factor TV show - No-one admits to watching it, yet it's a huge TV franchise that keeps coming back to our screens year on year. The way we use Flash is evolving - it has been since at least 2005 when AIR (then Apollo) and Flex 2 came along - but I think the PR was handled rather badly yesterday, and as a result I think the shockwaves will be felt across the entirety of the Flash Platform - including areas like AIR for mobile and Flash Player for personal computers, which Adobe affirmed commitment to develop. I imagine the Flash brand will now be superseded by AIR and Flex. As developers we evolve with the technologies we work with, or we die out.

Stop freaking out like excited school girls!

Those freaking out right now fall into either the "Not a clue what the announcement even means" camp, or the "I want to continue working the way I have for the last 5 years" camp. If you're part of the first bunch, you might be happier reading social media blogs than mine. If you're in the second camp, perhaps this announcement is a kick up the arse to stop designing banner ads and start using the rest of the capabilities offered by the platform. Trying something new every once in a while never hurt anyone. Stop fearing the unknown and embrace the change, it's all good!

In summary, I don't see the point in revelling in layoffs, championing the end of a platform (for which there isn't yet a replacement) or being resistant to change. The winds of change blow all the time in the technology sector - I find it refreshing and wouldn't want to work anywhere else!

Read Adobe's official announcement

Keywords for this post: flash, player, mobile, actionscript 3, android, air, app, iOS, iPhone, adobe