Flash is dying a slow and painful death because it’s not compatible with major mobile platforms and it hasn’t been adapted into something that makes sense for mobile developers to embrace. That spells big trouble for the platform because mobile consumption trends are the driving force behind the future of the Internet. I predict that within the next 12 to 18 months all future Flash development will cease, except legacy support.
With tablet and smartphone sales now exceeding sales of desktops and laptops combined, and industry analysts projecting that this trend will only accelerate, there is little question that the future is all about mobility. Marin Software recently reported that the global smart mobile market will reach one billion devices in the first half of 2013.
Brands have caught onto this trend and have adapted. Gartner predicts that, by 2014, 90 percent of all corporations will support mobile applications or mobile websites on personal devices. Advertisers are reacting to this trend as well. In its recent report Marin Software also found that advertisers increased their mobile search spend (as a portion of search budget as a whole) from 3.4 to 8.7 percent in 2011. Throw on top of this the fact that smartphone penetration in the U.S. has now reached 50% of our wireless population and it becomes easier to understand why mobility has become a key strategic imperative for brands and developers alike.
So if advertisers and brands across all industries have caught the mobile fever and are reacting appropriately, why is the mobile development of Flash being killed, especially given that a string of recent announcements seem to indicate that Adobe is still grasping for ways to keep Flash relevant?
The creators of Flash effectively acknowledged, in their own words, that it is nothing more than a legacy platform, and the two recent updates made within last 30 days validate just that. The first update made earlier this month was simply an attempt to close critical security gaps. In Adobe’s own Security Bulletin, it wrote:
“These priority 2 updates address critical vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player 188.8.131.52 and earlier versions for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Solaris, Adobe Flash Player 184.108.40.206 and earlier versions for Android 4.x, and Adobe Flash Player 220.127.116.11 and earlier versions for Android 3.x and 2.x. These vulnerabilities could cause a crash and potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system.”
The second update is a silent update option designed to enhance the security and usability of the platform essentially making it easier to support legacy use. These updates are attempts to close critical holes that could alienate existing Flash users. They are necessary to support existing users, but because they lack any innovation or future adoption they are a symbol of Flash’s demise and should be a sign to developers everywhere that HTML5 is here to stay.
With the nature of the recent updates effectively telling us all that Flash is dead, why did Adobe roll out premium Flash features that support specialized gaming middleware and development tools from third parties as well as from its own developers?
Adobe is claiming that Flash is “the game console of the web,” yet with all signs pointing to the rise of mobility and the associated disappearance of Flash, game developers should be focused on finding a development environment that is compatible with the mass market – casual gamers who are embracing apps for tablets and smartphones. With this trend well underway, there is simply just no potential for Flash to become a mainstream tool in the long run.
The recent signs of Flash’s demise are just a nail in the coffin though because the true culprit in the “who killed Flash” whodunit is Apple. Apple’s refusal to adopt Flash dealt a cruel blow to the platform’s future. Like it or not, Apple’s iOS is dominant when it comes to gaming apps and will continue to be so. Apple also owns the tablet market and that’s where some of the most explosive growth is taking place today. HTML5 became the future of mobile development and the moves by most every major smartphone and tablet manufacture to embrace it signals that it is the de facto mobile gaming platform for the foreseeable future.
HTML5 offers multi-platform support and gives developers the ability to develop one effective code base that is optimized to each of the major mobile form factors. This significantly cuts app development, maintenance and upgrade costs and simplifies life for corporate IT. Video is also increasingly becoming HTML5 oriented and HTML5 currently supports no fewer than 3 formats (Ogg, MPEG4 and GOGG’s WebM files).
So even if Flash is still relevant for hardcore gamers who are likely to be desktop or laptop based, developers, sensitive to the continuing explosion in mobile and eager to work with brands, will eventually give it up and move to HTML5. It doesn’t make sense to cling to a dying tool that doesn’t transcend platforms and no developer in their right mind wants to maintain multiple code bases due to the spiraling costs of updates and maintenance for any modern app.
HTML5 still has a lot of growing to do, but developers who are forward thinking and focused on reaching the broadest base of consumers should move onto the tool that has the most long-term viability and pressure Adobe to make certain that they throw all their support behind this effort to insure backward compatibility of Flash assets that have been developed. Just because Flash is a sinking ship it doesn’t mean all of their hard work and development genius has to go down with it.