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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Beginning of Long Slow Death of Flash

Earlier this year I questioned why there was Still No Flash on the iPhone and iPad. It’s become quite clear that Apple (Steve Jobs) is going to block putting Flash on these platforms.

Today the big news is Scribd Switches to HTML5; Adobe To Make Tools for HTML5.

As a Part-Time CTO, I am continually making choices about what platforms to use, what do we build for, how do we integrate with social networks, etc. And just like a few years ago when it became clear that you shouldn’t build desktop applications anymore, I think we are hitting a tipping point where you have to question building anything that uses Flash as the delivery mechanism.

Scribd today announced that they are going to be changing their Flash player to be based on HTML5.

"We are scrapping three years of Flash development and betting the company on HTML5 because we believe HTML5 is a dramatically better reading experience than Flash. Now any document can become a Web page," Scribd co-founder and CTO Jared Friedman told TechCrunch.

This comes at the same time as Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch: We’re Going To Make The Best Tools In The World For HTML5. Kevin doesn’t say that they are moving away from Flash – rather that they will support Flash and HTML5 as output. But it’s pretty clear that even Adobe sees the problem here.

What does this mean in practice? Well Captivate will produce HTML5 so that it can be run on an iPhone, iPad and everywhere else.

Right now, I believe this is a tipping point moment. It’s the beginning of the long slow death of Flash.

The only question is my mind is how long/slow it will be.

Oh and if I'm predicting relative to the big question this month: Learning Technology 2015 then my prediction is that we won't be building for Flash delivery in 2015.


Zackery Reichenbach-Carr said...


I think that there will be a decent of certain applications and web items from flash to html 5, and yes it will be a slow death, mostly due to the level at which people are currently using and developing with html 5. Another interesting point that Kevin Lynch made in that interview was:
"All the innovation coming from all those companies will dwarf what’s coming from that one company that isn’t participating."

Seems to me he is sort of alluding to the fact that Adobe is willing to play nice with everyone else at this point, and anyone (apple) who isn't willing to collaborate and innovate as a conglomerate is going to get left behind.

subquark said...

Well, I don't see how we will be able to build software simulations with HTML5. Holy cow, using JavaScript to create simulations involving data checking, text input, button pressing, and so on will be brutal (if not impossible).

Serving up video does not cover much of what is done in eLearning. I am a Flash developer who uses ActionScript 3 to create training that is more than just "what do you click next" interactions.

I think it is early to declare the death of Flash and maybe people that develop training like I do will be simply creating non-browser based simulations as stand alone applications.

Richard N. Landers said...

My big question is why is this happening now? A lot of news outlets are claiming that Apple is somehow causing the decline of Flash, but I think that's too simple. The truth is that Flash was going by the wayside eventually no matter what - it was just a question of what specifically was going to replace it, and the answer for at least the video-playing aspect of Flash seems to be HTML5.

But in that sense, all technologies are (eventually) doomed to failure. Flash is just the next casualty down the list, and Apple just brought it to everyone's attention. Eventually HTML5 will die too, and likely in just as slow and painful a fashion.

Tony Karrer said...

I think most people underestimate what can be done in HTML/JavaScript and now especially with HTML5.

Subquark - there are a couple of very specific input cases that are hard to deal with (special keys, right mouse click), but otherwise software sim is not hard. Those special cases do come up a lot though.

Richard - I'm not meaning to blame anyone on this - I'm only saying what I see happening and what I see as a REALLY IMPORTANT implication.

iBrent said...

HTML5 is not designed for mobile devices.

Apple doesn't even support HTML5 on their iPhone OS iDevices.

Once people realize how poorly HTML5 runs on their devices, they will wish Apple had switched to Flash along with everyone else.


Anonymous said...

For anything other than advanced animation or Flex-type applications, I can't see why anyone would continue to develop in Flash. Things like JQuery can do pretty much what Flash has done for years. I personally think people take offence to the death of Flash simply because they put all their eggs in one (development tool) basket. Flash is all they know or want to learn. The person that said, "Holy cow, using JavaScript to create simulations involving data checking, text input, button pressing, and so on will be brutal (if not impossible)." has me scratching my head asking why would you use Flash for that in the first place? Button pressing? Data checking? Text input? That screams JS not Flash but I am sure there is more to it.

Again, Flash has it place but it is no longer for playing video and the "tricks" that people use it for 95% of the time on their blogs and web pages. You can do the same things with almost all of the JS libs that are out there today.

I am also not sure it is going to be a slow death. Just check out all the major players that Apple has listed as iPad ready. They are all adopting HTML5 or other methods to ween themselves off Flash. Pretty impressive and fast!

iBrent said...

@anonymous, have "you" checked out the major players on your iPad? They aren't writing HTML5 solutions, they're writing native apps that they want you to buy in order to get the same experience on the device.


Me said...

I am struggling with this one from the eLearning side.

On the web side - it absolutely is the start of the end for flash. Soon the front splash pages of sites like will be replaced with the new HTML5 technology. With the increase in mobile browsing...flash is on its way out.

But, on the eLearning side, I can't see Flash going away anytime soon, and I don't see a replacement technology yet for what we do.

HTML5 does not allow the flexibility that eLearning developers need / have with Flash.;

Unless something changes, while Flash in the web may / will die...Flash for eLearning will continue like normal.

Code Handyman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Code Handyman said...

Flash isnt going anywhere. Its the best platform for rich internet applications and canvas/javascript are 12 years behind, while flash continues to evolve rapidly.

Flash is not the best tool for general webpages, and never has been. Flash is the perfect tool for unlimited creative expression where interactivity meets art.

Anyone who thinks flash is "dying" needs to learn about how web technology works. Ive been at it for 15 years starting with Authorware then moving to flash.

I designed and built 4 LMS's with flash as the primary UI in use by 10's of thousands of end users and have no plans whatsoever to abandon the technology in favor of the primitive capabilities of Javascript/Canvas.

Jenise Cook said...

I appreciate both Adobe and Apple.

As an e-learning instructional designer and developer, the Adobel/Flash vs. Apple debate thrills me. Why?

I believe in the imagination and talents of programmers around the world. What I envision, if HTML5 begins to dominate, is that some very very smart people will develop a front-end, user-friendly software tool that will make it easy for "anyone" to develop e-learning for Apple's mobile devices.

I like Flash; Flash is fun!

I also like the thrill of innovation and new tools. I cannot wait to see what some enterprising individuals will produce.

(Heck, if SumTotal can do it with their ToolBook Instructor, who else will add their publish-to-mobile tool to our development libraries?)

Who knows? It could even be Adobe who creates an easy-to-use, HTML5-compliant, front-end UI that helps non-programmers develop e-learning activities.



gih said...

Somehow, there would be a solution to it to make people satisfied.

Vic Uzumeri said...

1. Watch the action on the new generation of Google Android tablets and phones. They will support Flash on the next update 2.2

2. Flash can do things that HTML 5/Javascript will have considerable difficulty handling for some time. Think of the animations that can be done with Swift 3D. Think of the applications that can be done with Lazlo. It will take some time for comparable capabilities to emerge in HTML5/Javascript.

3. Corporate IT has invested a ton in Flash/Captivate. The applications are vetted and the IT folks believe in them. Intranets won't switch to HTML5/Javascript without a lot of thought.

Bottom line:

Flash may have a slow death.
Alternatively, it may retire to a sizeable niche.

Either way, it won't happen quickly.

Tony Karrer said...

@Vic - that's a good point that Android might force Flash on mobile. However, Android also supports HTML5. Makes it hard to bet on Flash.

Unknown said...

Let Apple block flash. It isn't like HP isn't coming out with the Slate, and even without the shiny outer case of the (single-tasking) IPAD, the kindle outperforms the IPAD on many aspects. Continue to let the DOZENS of apple users keep their "better than you" attitudes when in reality they are overpaying for under-performance.

Jason Robinson said...

C'mon guys. Saying Flash is going to die a slow death is naive at best. These companies are not going to stand by idly and watch their platforms fade away. We're talking about highly competitive companies that reached their dominant status for a reason. There was a time when Apple was on the ropes and everyone was declaring the Mac dead. Clearly they were wrong – is there a bigger media and Wall Street darling than Apple? Another good example: Ninendo went from superstar to also ran to superstar by innovating with the Wii. This is what good companies do. This is what Adobe and others will do.

Unknown said...

Agreed, for example Raptivity is a great tool for quick and dirty flash interactions. I think google is on the right path to open the flood gates as far as future computing goes. They are great proponents for the development of truly open-source applications.

Matthew Nehrling said...

Good morning Tony;
I think one of the problems here is that everyone is still trying to find the "unified theory of eLearning development", thinking that some platform or tool is a magic wand to produce the best content. Instead, various tools and platforms should be looked at as what they are, individual tools. The creation of the power screwdriver didn't eliminate the use of the hammer in home construction.

It is rare that we as developers, have control over all of the possible platforms our learners use or even the technology of tomorrow that we can't forsee today. The best we can do is to create content that can be re-used on as many platforms as possible, while at the same time, providing the best experience as possible for each platform user. For some users in some situations, that may be a .pdf, for others, a rich Flash based application.

Apple is only limiting her potential customer base by limiting app platforms. It opens up potential competitors to fill the gaps and provide similar devices that do more (can someone say Android?)

If HTML is still around, I don't see Flash leaving any time soon.

Stephen White said...

I am not sure I am ready to bet on the long slow death of Flash just yet. There is definitely a wake up call for Adobe to evolve their platform quickly or loose their web dominance (which in the case of Flash I think they will)) and maybe even their dominance in elearning. Mobile is a space elearing has to play in - period. But I think Mathew is right, we as elearning developers have always had to be ready to expand the tool box(I go back to hyper card stacks)and as such we will always need to be ready to deliver our learning solution to the relevant "distribution" channel. Like others I am an Apple and Adobe fan. Am I going to stop developing elearning in Flash? Not yet. Are we playing with HTML 5? You bet.

Tony Karrer said...

"I am not sure I am ready to bet on the long slow death of Flash just yet."

What does it mean to "place bets" on death of Flash?

* Short Adobe stock?
* Make pronouncements in your blog?
* Argue about it?

I don't actually care that much about these things.

I do care about having to make technical choices that need to live 5+ years. I'm working on defining the technical approach for several startups right now.

We need to deliver on mobile devices in the future. Reality is that we need that now, but at least we don't need to specifically design for it for now.

Do we include Flex or Flash as a delivery technology?


That's my bet.

I'm not betting that Flash is dead in five years. I'm hedging by NOT betting on Flash. Instead I'm betting on HTML/JavaScript.

That's been a relatively safe bet for many years.

Nathan said...

I cringe when I hear people say they developed something in articulate. It's the same theory. Different tools do different jobs. The best part of Flash that no one else can touch is the fact that it has it's own player. Making it compatible with all browsers. With HTML5 you will run into issues with IE and Firefox when one browser doesn't display text or a style properly because they have different standards. It happens.

The only reason we are worried about this is because Flash, and for all of you professionals out there Actionscript, is so big and dominate in the market. Every developer at some point has used Flash.

Kevin Lynch was meaning they will adapt to the technology, not drop what they know all together. Apple has always done their own thing. Uh keynote (powerpoint) and pages (word) anyone?

I love Apple technology, but everyone needs to calm down. Adobe will adapt. Right now HTML5 is a hot topic, but I don't know a lot of developers using this technology.

By the way, actionscript is open source. So don't bring in the money issue.

Amy B said...

I think when people start seeing what the reality of HTML 5, in particular the Canvas tag, is, everyone will run screaming back to Flash.

Right now, 60% of users hitting content across the web are on some form of IE, which does not support Canvas on any version. Rumor has it that IE 9 may not support it either.

If I had to guess why MS is being so cagey about support of Canvas in IE9, I would suspect it is because of the fact that they want to make sure that video support in Canvas "just works." Right now, some browsers support the Ogg codec and some support H.264. AFAIK, none of them support both.

MS may want to do both, but be unwilling to pay the license fees for its proprietary H.264 format.

Nathan said...

Just like regular HTML, your going to have developers that develop in HTML5 and javascript and produce poor websites. Visually poor and coding poor.

Javascript has always done the same thing as Actionscript, except Actionscript takes it to another level. Plus you get a nice interface to develop with.

I don't disagree about developing mobile pages with just HTML. It makes sense because it takes longer to load, but I don't agree about adopting one technology go forward for the next five years. What about the Apple SDK? Are you counting on developing in that technology? Seems to me if you want to get all of the mobile market you will have to be skilled in that code as well.

AJ Kandy said...

Amy, I think you're confusing two different things, the HTML5 video object and the canvas element, a drawable region controllable programmatically to render 2D graphics.

Video is rendered directly in the browser,and as you correctly note depends on what codec is supported. I'm guessing the vast majority will include H.264 at the very least, and other codecs will be included or available as plugins.

Canvas, combined with javascript, is what is competing with Flash vector animation and/or SVG.

I suppose one of these days someone will do an API port of ActionScript to JS...much as 280 North did a Javascript implementation of Objective-C to create their Cappuccino framework - Then things will start to get interesting!

Amy B said...

So then you're in the situation where you've got to write javascript for each browser's interpretation of the standard and worry about what video plugins are installed on each user's system (assuming your prediction of how the different codecs will be handled is correct). HTML 5 is an immature standard and isn't even scheduled to be finalized for 10 years.

If you want to sink your time and energy into all that cross browser morass, good on you. Please blog about it so I can benefit from your early adopter pain when I judge that the browser situation is good enough for me to consider a headlong dive into HTML 5.

Kevin Thorn said...

Here's the top 10 things we know:
1. HTML5 is a long way from being standardized (3-5) years.
2. HTML5 Does not work on all browsers yet.
3. Even when standards are finalized, browsers still have to render that code.
5. HTML5 is a language. If you don't know it, there's somewhat of a learning curve
6. The Flash output file .swf is used in MANY third-party output software dev programs other than just Flash.
7. The web and mobile markets are changing and we're seeing new technologies and methods arise. There is still a HUGE market for Flash.
8. Whether you agree or not, folks in the eLearning industry are not programmers or developers. They're designers (instructional or visual).
9. In the fast-paced world of workplace learning, ID's use (and need) tools that produce their content on the fly and work in browsers and their respective LMS's.
10. HTML5 is a LONG way (if ever) capable of developing the type of interactions that can be done in Flash.

Bonus 11. Garage animators submit thousands of entries to the Cartoon Network, WB Network, Nickelodeon, etc. every year for broadcast animation features & shorts. HTML5 will NEVER be able to that!

In Summary I don't see Flash ever "dieing" off rather being narrowed into a few focused markets. Flash has never had a "competitor" until now. Just because a new player enters the scene, doesn't mean the current player gets tossed in the river.

Oh, and a thought about Adobe's support of HTML5. They've been part of the W3C committee from the beginning and...they have a tool (Dreamweaver) that is designed for programmers to code web sites. It's a no-brainer that they'd continue to build the #1 web development program in the world to support the new standards. Why would they stop?

The game is changing, yes. The game if far from over!

V Yonkers said...

So how many of you use Colbalt or Pascal? Why not? Because the mainframe large centralized computer was phased out while the PC/Mac were phased in. It took a long time.

The questions is as Tony puts it, how fast will this happen and how can a company plan for the future? There will always be those that will need the older technology as it took a long time to phase out mainframes (my husband's organization finally got rid of theirs about 4 years ago). It seems that a company will need to look at their customer needs/resources/culture and see where THEY will be technologically in the future (next 5 years). Of course, they could also become a specialist in a "dying" technology until it finally is no longer needed. The last 10 years my husband's organization used one of the last contractors with specialty of UNIX systems. They had a monopoly on the market since others had lost that expertise years earlier.

TechCommGal said...

I am a Masters student enrolled in an Instructional Design course with Walden University. I am kinda new to the field and this article intrigues me. Should I hold off on learning Flash... and focus more on learning HTML5? Or would it be best to learn both? I know a very little about Flash and made it a goal to learn more, but now I wonder. You imput is greatly appreciated.

James @ online phd said...

I am rather concerned about Steve Jobs not adopting Flash !, one of the reasons is some of the e-learning curriculum that we have spent time on developing makes heavy use of flash.

At the same time not many of us are familiar with HTML5 at the moment. While I appreciate the seamlessness of the HTML 5 approach, what is the learning curve ? and most importantly would it benefit the students ?

Yogesh said...

In my opinion HTML5 will not replace Flash completely which Amy, Kevin and others have mentioned in their comments. I believe that in couple of years HTML5 will become an alternative to Flash for doing some very basic stuff (like creating banners etc.).
Here are my thoughts on why HTML5 is still not for eLearning development -

subquark said...

With Flash and ActionSscript you can create almost anything you can imagine. More than what you can do with JavaScript. And as far as all eggs in one basket? Well you are correct in the JS is not big in my toolbox. I also do Photoshop, virtual worlds, Illustrator, interactive PDFs (JavaScript by the way), photography, video, and a host of other things that often tie into using Flash to distribute them (like conference keynote videos and interactions).

To say it was foolish to do much in Flash is the same as saying JavaScript is the answer. It too could be replaced. It's a standard that could go by the wayside at some point (not likely, but the same was said for flash just 3 months ago).

We have some simulations which involve multiple right mouseclicks (admittedly, we call JS to snag the mouse) and also involve dragging screen objects around.

Picture a Home Depot type kitchen creator where you can drag cabinets and appliances around. We have similar interactions to that which reconfigure rooms based on what is being addded to them. When those load, they read XML files to set themselves up.

Flash has its place and can do some things extremely well. It is a shame that Apple, who used to be the underdog, is now seemingly the corporate entity using their position for manipulation of the market (ie, it sure seems that Jobs has a stick up his *$##!).

Apple has such a loyal fan base that they can push out any information and be believed. Like their claims to being environmantal. A quick look at Climate Counts show that Apple is far from environmental, despite their lovely self-portrayal on thier website.

I hold out hope for Android-based tablets.

It is amazing how quickly the global community simply says it's all over.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but the HTML5 debate for the most part is pretty short-sighted. Forcing people into a world without proper dev tools, 1998 style coding, cross-browser issues, licensing issues for video, and a world dominated by slow-moving standards makes me feel like Adobe and Microsoft still have the upper-hand with Flash and Silverlight:

See why HTML 5 + Javascript sucks for developers:



Bill said...

Hello TechCommGal! I'm a Walden Alumn myself (PhD in Public Policy and Management).

The best strategy here is to learn both Flash and HTML5. You can put your Flash skills to immediate use while HTML5 is still evolving and then when HTML5 is a mature and robust technology, you are ready to program in it. Once you have worked with enough technologies you start to realize that there are plenty of similarities that you can use to make acquiring the next set of skills easier. There isn't much difference in how to program a "for next" loop in many of the programming languages once you have the concept down.

The title of this topic should be the "Beginning of the Long Slow Death of Apple." Seriously, how revolutionary is the iPad when compared to Droid? You can't run multiple apps, the Apple App store is counter-innovative, and it's a step backward in computing power compared to your common netbook.

If you are interested in mobile learning, pick up this book - Beginning Smartphone Web Development: Building Javascript, CSS, HTML and Ajax-Based Applications for iPhone, Android, Palm Pre, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Nokia S60 by Gail Frederick and Rajesh Lal. Aim for tech that lets you be platform agnostic.

A well-stocked toolbox with many tools is the key to success in many fields.

Unknown said...

Scribd is slow with HTML5, the source code is a mess, phones get a mobile version and not the HTML5 version. So if that site is an example your title is a failure.

Kyaw Kyaw Naing / George said...

Is HTML5 mature enough now?

Anonymous said...

The presumption here is that HTML5 is somehow in the same league or will be in the same league as Flash is for content development and presentation. It's not. It is nowhere near being so. It never will be because HTML5 depends upon a consortium of browser and technology developers to maintain a baseline of cooperation in which each ultimately produces an engine responsible for handling more than content.

HTML5 (or its descendants) will never be as efficient a delivery platform nor will it ever approach the level of efficiency of content creation capable within an engine-specific environment designed for this purpose.

Stephen Jobs will inevitably eat crow. The question is how long will it take for his ego to become shattered once again.

Eric Bort said...

I think apple is a little in love with itself - If apple allows flash to play and crash on its devices, enough people will complain (to adobe, not apple) to the point where the flash player is reconfigured to work properly - nothing lights a fire under your ass like customer complaints. When my computer crashes because CS4 is full of bugs I don't blame Dell.. people just aren't that dumb... Apple can keep their manopoly on the app store and keep thousands of quality flash developers out, but like others have said those developers and consumers will go to one of the many other service providers to get their flash content. On the other hand i understand Apple's desire to keep the weeds out - they want to represent a quality product with quality content.. but this is the internet.. if i want to look up low quality content on my high quality device that should be my choice, and i reinforce that choice by using my toshiba netbook! (which kind of sucks, but at least it plays flash).

-Eric Bort
Flash developer for 12.5 years and counting

Matt Wolf said...

I agree that Flash is on its way out. We avoid flash for developing elearning, but we do use Flash for activities within our courses.

This is a little off topic, but does anyone know of any good authoring tools that support SCORM, that publish HTML/JS?