Flash Is Dead, Long Live HTML5

Adobe Flash

The debate around the suitability of Flash on mobile devices came to an abrupt end this week. Adobe formally announced that they will now be focusing their Flash developments on PC browsing and will “aggressively contribute” to HTML5 development for mobile devices.

In doing so, Adobe has in part validated the criticisms of Flash made by the late Steve Jobs in 2010, when he was CEO of Apple. “Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice,” Jobs wrote in an open letter defending his company’s refusal to support Flash in iOS in favour of the HTML5 standard.

Adobe hinted at this move away from Flash for mobile in its acquisition last month of Nitobi, which makes cross-platform mobile development software called PhoneGap. This tool allows developers to create mobile applications using HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript and to package that code in a wrapper environment so it will run as a native mobile app.

This effectively means that developers will still be able to take their Flash content, repackage it, and optimize it for mobile devices by turning it into native apps that can be downloaded via the appropriate storefront – including the Apple App Store.

Both Adobe and Flash have long been part of the developer ecosystem and this shift raised some interesting points.

Firstly, Adobe Flash was made for the PC-to-PC era and as a result, when utilizing the technology on mobile, there were some clear challenges both for developers and the end user. Issues such as security, reliability and even its effect on battery life, due to software rather than hardware decoding, were often cited as reasons why Flash wasn’t fit for mobile.

Secondly, by eliminating Flash for mobile, Adobe has cemented the current mindset of developers and organizations the world over – either you make a standalone app, or you develop an HTML5 Web app. However, another way to look at it is that Adobe allowed the Web to mature much faster than it would have without Flash. It essentially became the vision for the future of HTML. As HTML5 came about, Flash-like capabilities such as animation and interactivity became the new standard.

We should perhaps thank Adobe (and Macromedia who created Flash and was acquired by Adobe) for showing the community the way to make the Web behave in ways that greatly enhanced the user experience.

So, what does the future hold for Adobe Flash? Support for the platform will continue to be available on PC with a focus on those areas where they can have the most impact, such as advanced gaming and premium video.

At the same time, with the Adobe team looking to leverage their expertise to progress HTML5, a standard that is built with the connected world in mind and somewhat device agnostic, this could be the end of mobile Flash as we know it. Then again, HTML5 aims to incorporate most of the goodies of Flash so in a sense, Flash for mobile is dead, but through its ashes, HTML5 was born.

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Recognising a need in the fast growing mobile industry to provide the first truly affordable handset testing service, Faraz founded DeviceAnywhere in April 2003. Prior to launching DeviceAnywhere, Faraz was the Director of Solutions at Brience, a mobile WAP applications company, and a Technical Architect at KPMG Consulting. While employed with Brience, he experienced the difficulty and expense required to develop new mobile applications when teams often had to travel abroad to set up testing labs and independently purchase new handsets. The challenge facing the industry presented Faraz with the vision for founding DeviceAnywhere. Faraz has also held technical positions at Oracle, KLA Tencor and AMD. He holds a MS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the lead singer for a local rock band, Kaif.