A Moment of Clarity for Mobility and Flash Development

The web has been alight with rumors and both joyful and angry proclamations after last week’s announcement by Adobe that they will be discontinuing development of the Flash Player for mobile devices, as well as contributing the Flex SDK to an open source foundation. This has ranged from targeted responses to wild chants of ‘Flash is Dead!’

Apple’s decision not to support Flash and the popularity of their mobile devices has indeed forced Adobe’s hand…and with good reason as HTML5 moves ahead aggressively; so why not commit to that platform and allow developers to deliver a true ‘author once, deliver anywhere’ product? After all, Adobe is a company that creates tools and is not just all about Flash.

After letting the discussion continue and some insights from Adobe and the Community Experts deeply involved with the application, let’s clarify some things…

  1. Flash is not dead
    Adobe has put forth considerable resources into Flash, it remains the most widely-available player on the market, and there remains a significant advantage to the mature platform. But perhaps, from a business sense, pushing forth on mobile solutions simply isn’t financially sound. While better to use some of the Flash resources to push ahead tools and solutions for HTML5 development. On the other hand, Flash for desktop and laptop delivery will remain strong for years, and that’s the breath Flash will continue to draw.
  3. Flash is alive for mobile
    While killing off the player for mobile web, Adobe is reinvigorating their support for Adobe AIR – which is a way of packaging Flash applications as ‘Apps’. Mobile devices are all about Apps…and Adobe’s fully on that bandwagon too. There are already mobile Apps created with Flash for both Android and Apple devices. Expect to see that number increase dramatically. Additionally:
    • The current Flash Player may never work for iOS devices, but it works pretty great on the Android devices we’ve tested so far, and that player will remain available for future devices.
    • Partner companies who DO want to continue the Flash web player will be able to do so. RIM, for instance, may well take on further Flash web player development for their BBX platform.
  4. Flash is alive for desktop
    As many Adobe sources have stated (see above links), they remain committed to the Flash platform. The multitudes of tools that deliver to SWF are not suddenly ineffective. There are computers and users out there still running Windows 2000 and IE6! The Flash desktop player will be around for years. While a transition to HTML5 may be inevitable, it’s not coming anytime soon…browsers and the specification itself need time and Flash will continue to work well, if not even better, during the time HTML5 needs to ‘grow up’.
  6. HTML5 development tools are coming
    Adobe has a rough development tool called Edge, but it’s still very much beta, and still very much limited in what it can do. Nice initial effort though! Other third parties are working on such tools too. Now, how long before those tools will support SCORM export, well, that’s yet another ‘to be determined’ factor. Regardless, much like the early days of HTML, hand-coding HTML5 sites won’t be necessary for much longer. Dreamweaver already has an HTML component and Captivate recently released an HTML5 ‘converter’ (though also very much ‘beta).

In sum, Adobe handled the announcement poorly without any reassurance to the developer and user community that it remains fully invested in Flash as a viable and supported technology. However, times change and software is eventually deprecated in favor of new and better ways to develop projects (see Authorware). These may be the sunset years of Flash, but those are numerous years. Flash remains one of the most rapid and capable methods of delivering everything from full ‘rich internet applications’ (RIAs) to elearning courseware – and we remain excited about the new 3D possibilities in enhancing our training products.

HTML5 has a long way to go in standards, specification, features, and browser support. General predictions see HTML5 advancing to the capabilities of Flash 2 within FIVE years. Entire libraries of eLearning courseware will be developed and themselves outdated by the time HTML5 becomes a pre-teen in terms of Flash capabilities.

Here at ICS Learning Group, we will continue to move with the tides. While we too have significant investment in the Flash platform, our developers and culture are flexible. Many of our web applications already incorporate aspects of HTML (i.e. advanced JS functionality) and as browsers support HTML5 features to make the user experience more of a guarantee, we’ll incorporate those features as required by the project.

Overall, these remain interesting times and we will continue to master those technologies that help us deliver quality and effective products to our customers.