I have been involved with flash for over a decade. At one point about 7 years ago everything I built for the web was in Flash. I’ve also taught Flash at two local colleges for the past 5 years. In this time I’ve watched Flash shape change in its entirety from a simple animation tool for designers (Flash 2), to a robust programming language for developers (Flash CS3 and later versions). All the while it managed to maintain all previous facets of itself. It was everything to everyone and this ubiquity was sometimes reflected in my students’ frustration: with the flash interface layout, or the process of building a file, which is not always intuitive but more a learned process of Flash logic.
However by the end of 2008 Flash Player could be found on about 99% of PCs Worldwide per statistics from Adobe. If you had a cool Flash site, most people could see it.
Hip and slick flash websites were all the rage and developers were flocking towards the Flash environment.
Flash CS4 launched that year and incorporated a new robust Media Encoder, which meant that most formats of video could now be streamed though Flash too (So AVI, DV, MPG, MOV files could all now be turned into FLV flash video). This made Flash video the premiere and most widely used movie playing software on the web.
Adobe had also in 2006 launched the new, super sleek version of its programming language, Action Script 3.0. This object orientated programming language was something Flash programmers and developers had been needing for years. So now Flash could also be used to program fabulously funky, fully functioning shopping carts .
Flash had done it again, it had morphed to become what was dreamed of it.
So why are we now seeing the start of the demise of Flash on the web?
There are 2 major contributing factors:
1.The SEO drawbacks have never been overcome. As the output of Flash is a movie, its very difficult for search robots to adequately parse and index flash content online. It is true the method of deep linking using swf address has somewhat helped in this area. However the fact remains that all other things being equal, a code based site will out-perform a flash site in search results.
2.The rise of the handheld device. The refusal of the Apple organization to support Flash on its devices has been much discussed, and the fundamental reasons (both technical and economic) are well understood. See Steve Jobs’ 2010 article on the topic.
However the underlying truth is that Flash excelled in the era of the PC and the mouse. It is far less ideal for use on mobile devices in terms of resources and interactivity with touch screen as opposed to mouse. This is true despite Android’s recent Flash support initiatives.
And I for one am not hanging on for the day when Apple will ever support Flash Player on its devices.
The general consensus of the many flash developers in our circle is that its time for us all to move on.
Our affiliate who sells flash components has noted a drastic drop in demand recently. In this case we judge its only a matter of time before the general public accepts the realities as our community sees them.
Indeed it would appear to this writer at least, that Adobe, with the release of Edge for HTML5 authoring, is reaching similar conclusions. It is my fervent hope that Edge will evolve as beautifully as Flash did.
RIP Flash websites, I’ll miss you.
So what will replace Flash use on websites and how will this change the Web?
There is very little doubt that a vast proportion of web interactivity over the coming years will be driven through HTML5. Audio and video files for example can now be easily implemented through the language by simple tags.
The great open source language PHP will doubtless continue to feature heavily in dynamic web development initiatives. As for established open source content management frameworks, WordPress looks set to continue in its meteoric usage rise.
We expect to see a lot more 3-D file integration in websites soon. The intelligently applied use of After Effects and Cinema 4D will bring a very fresh look to websites. As downstream bandwidth rates rise exponentially the barriers to running 3-D applications will disappear.
But none of the above can do elegant animated interactivity as brilliantly as Flash.
Therefore there is nothing to totally replace Flash, but there are enough other cleaner elements out there that maybe this doesn’t matter anymore. (anyone remember director after all?). We have all gotten over our amazement that the web exists at all, and we no longer need to watch a slick interactive flash animation to bedazzle ourselves. us still further. Now we primarily want information quickly from the information super high way. Information, research, entertainment though video or music, shopping and banking are all items we want from our time spent online.
And all of this is easier without the pre-requisite demands of Flash..
As for Flash itself, it has always exhibited masterful ability for adaptation. Right now it is being heavily used in online gaming. The millions of sites incorporating Flash are unlikely to disappear overnight.
So while the future of flash in website development is waning, it may well carve itself a new alternative path forward.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.Google+