opinion

Flash Is Dead. Long Live Flash

Bruno Dickman
Originally developed by Macromedia, Flash’s birth happened 14 years ago. From a vector animation software, it evolved to become a pillar of the rich media Internet. Today, owned by Adobe, Flash dominates the web video arena and is responsible for 75 percent of all online video delivery. With 98 percent connected PCs boasting flash players and a massive horde of 3 million developers using the Flash platform, it was obvious that at some point other tech giants would want a piece of that cake.

As of this writing, apple is leading a movement against Flash, promoting HTmL5 and applying an embargo for Flash in their mobile ioS devices, aka iPhones, iPods and iPads, allegedly because of battery consumption, processing performance and security issues, and in favor of “more open standards” (lol). in reality, the major issues are political ones, like fighting to control the standards for video format and application development. Video is a key component for ad revenue generation and so are the applications within the app Store.

Before, there was an anti-microsoft alliance, composed of Google, adobe and apple. now, there are multiple collision courses and tensions. apple wants to push hardware and paid content (media and apps). Google wants massive reach for their ad platforms. microsoft wants more unit sales of their oS and adobe wants everyone to build their business applications using their platform.

It’s important to realize that in the end, the Flash vs. HTmL5 war is about control, not about which platform is better, so be pragmatic. Adopt technologies based on your business requirements.

If you are building a video intensive platform, like a membership site, Flash still is and will be the way to go for a long time. HTML5 doesn’t specify a standard codec – so currently Chrome, Firefox and Opera support Ogg Theora (open source) and IE9, Chrome, Safari and Safari Mobile support MPEG H.264 (patented by MPEG-LA, partly owned by Microsoft and Apple –get it now?). To add to the mess, Google acquired On2 and released its VP8 codec under an Open Source license, so really, why move out of Flash video, if Flash is ubiquitous and plays a lot of different codecs? In addition, Flash is just superior in terms of buffering and dynamic quality control, key aspects for streaming. The best way to go is to use H.264 because it can both be played by a Flash Player on PCs and mobile devices that support Flash and using a HTML5 player on iOS devices. Currently, Flash delivers media in a much more secure way, via Real Time Media Flow Protocol (RTMFP), so if your business is centered around rentals (VOD) and One-to-Many or Few-To-Many (LiveChat), Flash is your best option.

Unfortunately, I don’t possess a crystal ball and cannot tell precisely who will win this war. Who knows, if the codec issue is solved, HTML5 may be the future of the web video. But at present, it’s a weak alternative. HTML5 will likely become the standard for the development of Web Productivity Apps (like Google Apps and Microsoft Office Live) and Flash will remain as the king of immersive experiences, although the microsite space is shrinking.

Flash allows designers and developers to create immersive websites, games and applications. The very best examples of animations and interactive experiences created using HTML5 technology today look like late 90s Flash efforts — early 2000s at best. It’s just not a comparable technology to create what makes surfers go Wow. Visit TheFWA.com for a glimpse of what’s possible and it should be enough to make my point.

There’s one last detail. Let’s not forget that to achieve success, in addition to technology adoption, it’s equally important to have the right designers/developers to implement it. A bad implementation of a great technology yields a bad customer experience.

While at it, Steve Jobs, if you are reading this, please, allow iOS devices to run Flash. The Adobe folks are working on security and battery challenges. If your H.264 codec truly is better, it will be adopted by everyone. If your App Store really has amazing and superior games, the Flash games won’t eat your revenues. So play nice, be open. All the cool kids are doing it!

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