Dev

Mobile Flash death throes: Is it time for developers to move on?

Keith O’Neill is CEO and co-founder of L4 Mobile, which develops and delivers interactive applications for mobile phones, tablets, and connected TVs.

In a series of November blog posts, Abode announced the beginning of the end for mobile Flash. Adobe vice president Danny Winokur confirmed the company “will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations.” Instead, Adobe’s “future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR.”

Got that? Flash for mobile browsers is out. Flash-based mobile apps with AIR are in.

In other words, mobile Flash isn’t exactly dead; not yet anyway. But why would Adobe make that move? Wouldn’t the post by Winokur just increase the perception that Flash overall is dead and lead to decreasing demand for Flash developers, as one commenter noted? Probably.

To clarify the reasoning behind the company’s shift in Flash strategy – and counter any fallout – Adobe developer Mike Chambers blogged that the Flash Player for mobile browsers fell victim to:

  1. ubiquitous support for HTML5 in mobile browsers,
  2. mobile users’ preference for dedicated mobile apps over browser-based apps, and
  3. resource constraints – specifically, too much time required to engage the mobile OS, device and component vendors in developing the mobile browser plug-in.

Assessing the fate of the Flash community, on the other hand, Chambers concluded the announcement is actually “a HUGE opportunity.” The skills Flash designers and developers have honed over years spent working with rich content and motion graphics will be in demand regardless of the underlying technology, be it Flash or  HTML5. And the rise of HTML5 will ensure demand does, in fact, grow for rich content and motion graphics.

Chambers’ optimism may be a stretch, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the Flash world isn’t coming to an end tomorrow. Strategy Analytics estimates that more than 132 million smartphones will support Flash Player and more than 200 million smartphones and tablets will support Adobe AIR by the end of 2011.

More telling, Net Applications estimates smartphones and tablets make up only 5.5 percent of browser usage. The vast majority – 94.2 percent – of browser usage is on PCs, where Flash Player is the technology enjoying ubiquitous support. Last May, Periscopic put it this way: While approximately 800 million people would be able to view an HTML5 project, more than 2 billion people could see a website developed in Flash.

Few argue that HTML5 and CSS3 are the future. Instead, the argument centers on how far off that future lies. Many, including Periscopic, suggest HTML5 has a way to go, especially in terms of support for commonly used features such as “the ability to dynamically draw things on screen, support 3D objects, work with vector-based objects, integrate video & audio, apply filter effects, integrate with APIs, and make network socket connections.”

So what does all this mean for developers, designers, content developers, advertisers, marketers and others who developed their critical content in Flash? What should the Flash community do?

First, don’t panic. Flash is not disappearing overnight even though Adobe’s handling of the mobile Flash news suggested otherwise.

Second, plan for the future. Evaluate your technology choices and make decisions based on your unique goals. Flash lets you reach the largest possible audience and gives you more features both now and in the immediate future. However, HTML5 and CSS3 look to dominate mobile browsing soon and PC browsing later.

Finally, start the transition. It’s time for Flash professionals to extend their mastery beyond the Adobe technology and get to know HTML5 and CSS3. As Adobe’s Chambers concluded, “your customers are going to ask about HTML5, and you should put yourself in a position to best meet their needs, regardless of technology or platform.”


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