A couple months ago, with all the press focusing on Apple’s announcement of the iPad, Steve Jobs made a comment that Flash is dying and that people need to push HTML5. Since this comment, I’ve heard from many clients who want new sites and want to avoid Flash because it’s a dead technology and has no future.
I never thought I’d do this, but I think I’m going to come to the defense of flash. I don’t like programming in flash all that much and I find it quite frustrating and annoying (I had hopes that when Adobe purchased Macromedia it’s type support would get better… not worse).
Don’t get me wrong, in 15 years I don’t see a huge place for Flash. But in the now, and in the next 5 years, it’s still going to have a very strong presence. I believe this for a couple reasons:
1. Upgradeability (Spell check is getting mad at me for that word, but it’s the best word for this reason): If you want to upgrade flash, you can now do it without having to restart your browser. In fact, it often takes less than 5 seconds (really!). It is such an easy process that almost everyone upgrades without even realizing what they are doing (I won’t get into if this is a good thing). Therefore, within 6 months of a new flash version over 96% of web users have it. That’s some amazing penetration. Web browsers on the other hand (Internet Explorer in particular) is on the complete other end of the spectrum. People still use IE6. Yes, it is in decline, but a lot of people (and more importantly, businesses) still use it. There is no easy way to upgrade. A user has to go through Windows Upgrades application (which studies have shown that most people do not use). Microsoft seems to have finally gotten back into the browser game and has released IE7, IE8 and is even working quickly on IE9, so perhaps this will get better. But the bottom line is that right now (and for the next couple years at least), most people do not upgrade their browsers.
2. Video. There is a lot of hype around the HTML 5 video tag. Sure, it makes it really easy to embed video. It’s just one tag. Sounds great right? I think it is, but the markup isn’t the problem here. The browsers are. Just like in the late 90’s and early 2000’s we had to have a Netscape version of a site and an IE version of a site. Now, we’ll have to have video in one format for some browsers and in another format for other browsers. In my opinion, video is the one thing that flash does well. Why? Because of my reason number one above. Flash gets upgraded often, and can support better and better video codecs/formats as they come out. Browser manufacturers can’t agree on formats. And as time goes by and new formats come out, it will become even more of a mess.
In a perfect world, the browser manufactures would agree on standards. And as new versions came out, people would make sure the upgraded. These two things don’t happen. Therefore, flash isn’t going anywhere.
The claim that flash is dying reminds me of the late 90’s and all the claims that XML was going to revolutionize the world and every new site and application should make use of it. Sure, XML is a solid tool, but 90% of the hype wasn’t necessary. Flash will go away at some point. But not nearly at the speed that people claim.