Where should Adobe take Flash now? Or where should you?

So I just got another of many similarly themed emails regarding Flash. As in, what the F is up with Flash these days. And usually the question to me is either, do I start learning it, or do I keep learning it. So I want to respond to that email, and hopefully respond to a few more that haven’t been written yet.

Here’s the state of things as I see it…

Flash will survive through evolution. Software is always evolving some, but Flash needs to take an X-men style leap forward soon. And I believe its happening now, I’m getting emails almost every week from the Adobe Pre-release team regarding the Air to Android extension that I mentioned here on the blog last week. That is a great mutation for the program. And for anyone already making Flash games or anything using Actionscript 3, its like a free pass into the mobile app-making marketplace. Pat yourself on the back, you can be an Android developer in 10 minutes. And as long as you have CS5, that extension is a free gift from Adobe, which could equal big bucks down the road.

Flash isn’t dead, as so many like to proclaim, BUT in a few years, developers will have to make a very strong argument with clients regarding an all-Flash site. HBO.com in its current form is a great example of a super-slick all-Flash corporate site the likes of which will probably never been done again. Why? Because right now HBO’s website is a 5-star experience for desktop and laptoppers, but a no-star experience for phone/padded users. And in a few years, smart money won’t be spent like that. The guys with the big bags of cash will sign off on work proposals that guarantees a “universal experience” among all users.

Flash advertising will end up in the morgue too (few will attend that funeral though). Mobile advertising  is far too lucrative to be missing customers over a missing plugin.

So where will Flash live on the internet, if not encompassing entire big ass sites like HBO and web ads?  Frankly, places where it belongs…

The fun corners of the internet. Gaming and animation sites like Newgrounds aren’t going to have a problem keeping traffic strong. And whatever Jib Jab is up to between presidential elections, I’m sure they won’t have a problem sending out crazy ecards because if people want to do something like that, they’ll walk 10 or 20 feet over to their Flash-enabled computer in the next room to do so. If its fun enough, or cool enough, or geek enough, the people will come.

High functioning web apps. I’m not sure what else to call what I’m referring to, but basically any kind of Flash application that either isn’t for the “common” internet user or has had too much invested in it to be scraped because of a few million iPads on the market. And a good example might be a print shop that developed an app to upload T-shirt artwork and customize it. Or a stock trading application that uses Flash. Stuff that people just accept that “uh oh, I gotta leave the couch to do this thing for work”.

The two things I emboldened up there are definitely opposites. The Absurdly Unnecessary and the Absolutely Work Necessary. What falls between those categories is stuff like simple graphics and video that didn’t really need to be Flash in the first place.

And CartoonSmart.com was (and in some places still is) a great example of what not do. So change comes.  I didn’t want to see utter-black like the cover of a Spinal Tap album when I visited my site on an iPad. And for those that don’t know, what I was doing is loading lots of separate swfs to organize the layout. I set it up like that because it was easy for me to do so. In many cases I just had static (non-animated) swfs being loaded in. Thats a perfect example of where Flash will die. And I didn’t need to use Flash there, so I got rid of it.  But I’m still loading in some swfs as overlays to the iPad friendly content (like this page) because I love adding small bits of animation.

UPDATE. Permit me to clarify what I meant by universal experience. It has nothing to do with HTML5 or CSS3. Using those right now would be just as incompatible as Flash is for the Ipad. I just mean, the same experience among every device.

So lets suppose HBO decides in a month from now to totally redesign the site to be as universally compatible as possible. So some VP asks their web dept, “how do we do this now”. And they’ll bring in a white board and go down a list of stuff they can and can’t use. So Flash would be out because of the iPad. HTML5 and CSS3 are no good right now because of IE8, someone here commented that jQuery has problems, and so on like that. Granted, that isn’t the most creative approach, but thats the corporate approach because no one wants to take the blame for things not working. Imagine if some CEO gives their web dept a million dollars to do some grand redesign, and when it launches, he can’t see what he paid for because he’s sitting in some airport lounge with an iPad.  Thats the type of situation every underling wants to avoid.

And thats why I think Flash will get relegated to the “cool kids table” of the internet. It’ll be used by developers that don’t care about the iPad, that don’t want to conform, that don’t give a crap about cell phone users, and so on. Maybe it’ll be a rebel toolkit ONCE AGAIN. Most of you can remember when Flash wasn’t used much at all, when half your visitors had to install the plugin just to see what you had going on. Flash was an underground thing at one point. It grew to what it is now because people did “must see” shit with it. I worked for a startup dot-com in 2001 that did everything in Flash, and almost daily I heard the president on the phone talking to someone that couldn’t see the site. And these were usually investors.

For everyone that commented below disregarding the iPad,  I do agree that it is a relatively minor nuisance with only 2 million sold. Heck, for all I know I’m probably the only person thats visited my site with an iPad.   But its only been out for 2 months. There was a time when there were only 2 million iphones sold. And now they are up to 90 million (if you count the iPod Touch too, aka iPad Nano).


12 thoughts on “Where should Adobe take Flash now? Or where should you?

  1. Gregory says:

    And this is one of the reasons why your blog is one of the first places I surf to for cool animation ideas and insightful commentary.

    Good article, except for the typoz. 🙂

  2. Great Article many many thanks. I have some Android tablets coming from china next week, but did not see a need to upgrade my CS4…. now it may enter my “to do” list. And yes this is the blog I come for insightful commentary on Flash. Great Post.

  3. hunter says:

    To be honest guys i think we are giving this topic to much “i´m worry “.
    first of all great comments justin, it´s good to read a neutral point of view in all this, now is flash going to dissapear? i don´t think so, the funny thing here is that everybody thinks so just because steve “flashless” jobs said so?? i mean come on!!! i f it weren´t for the ipod apple would still be the ugly girlfriend picture that you keep hiding in your wallet. Mac´s were never, ever a real threat to the p.c. market, it was the ipod that gave apple the money that they needed to become what they are today a gadget maket, now why i´m saying this? because apple never had a real control of the situation until now… i don´t remember that apple complained of flash back in the days when they only made macs, but now steve says that flash is outdated and everybody gets scare, let´s be honest do you really REALLY believe adobe is going to let the most popular application for the web die just like that? not even html in it´s present form has died then why flash should? and even less with the “close” market that the ipad and iphone is, because remember those developer applications are only available for the mac, and you need to pay fees to sell something for real, now that´s what i call open market right steve?
    anyway what i think is going to happen is that sooner or later flash is going to support html 5 that is of course if it really gets popular, let´s not forget how many format wars we have seen like for example the mp3, right now there are formats who are better and smaller than mp3 but guess what?? mp3 is still here, so i don´t think we should worry so much specially when all this fear started with a guy who is new in this whole “let´s conquer the gadget world” and by new i mean that this is the first time that apple has the opportunity to create real competition, too bad the only thing they are doing is adding fear to the people.

  4. Totally agreed Hunter. And great point about HTML4. Yeah its outdated, but it sure isn’t going anywhere.

    Where Apple’s strength lies isn’t so much in the numbers (2 mil iPads is hardly any in relative terms) but in who owns those iPads. And since its basically the first of its kind, CEO’s are getting it, companies are buying one just to have one, prosumers (like web developers, photographers, graphic artists). So I think you’ve got a lot of people in positions where they can say “why isn’t OUR site showing up on this thing”, and thats a huge difference from your common consumer wondering why some random site isn’t showing up.

    Anyway, this is the “dust phase”, where we’ll all have to see where the dust settles in a year or two. And all this conjecture could be pointless if say, Jobs steps down as CEO in a year and the next guy says “lets get Flash on our stuff”. But I’d rather wax philosophical about this stuff than whatever is in People magazine this week.

  5. John says:

    When people say “why isn’t OUR site showing up on the Ipad/phone Tell them it’s because you don’t have a site that’s optimized for the device.
    Why are we trying to change the web to suit a device, if flash doesn’t show on the device it’s not the web that’s f__ked it’s the frigin over sized ipod.

  6. hunter says:

    I´ll buy a bag of nachos before an ipad, seriously the thing here is just like justin said, many “top dogs” are buying this toys because they are cool, they are what we could call “power gadgets” things to show how powerful and wealthy you are, the thing here is that even though they wonder why their page doesn´t show up in this thing the best answer could be: because not all the people is rich? those toys are great but not the kind of things that everybody can afford, really guys is internet so small that we really need to worry if it shows on a pad? as justin said at any moment steve jobs could just leave his position ( or adobe could give the amount of money apple wants, because let´s be real this sounds more like a money thing than anything else) and then it´s over.

  7. “The guys with the big bags of cash will sign off on work proposals that guarantees a “universal experience” among all users.”

    There will be no such thing even in a few years. Do you really think that all browsers are going to implement HTML5/CSS3 the same? (*cough* like they do now? *cough*)

    I think apple will eventually cave if and when 10.1 or later proves to run flawlessly on mobile devices…

  8. Hey Jeff , by universal experience I don’t mean to imply those are HTML5 or CSS3. Those would be just as incompatible to use as Flash is for the iPad. I just mean, a common look among devices. And sadly that’ll probably compromise the more creative tools like Flash.

    I think as long as Jobs is CEO, Flash won’t be on an iPad. I think there’s too much ego involved now.

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