Many, especially the zealous Apple supporters, would have you believe that Apple killed Flash. In reality, it's HTML5 that might be the ultimate demise of Flash, but it won't be this year and probably not next year either. A recent article at TechCrunch took an extremely myopic view of the whole thing and claimed that Apple "won" some imaginary war between itself and Adobe over the future of Flash. However, Adobe has already been ahead of the game as they're all about web development and not about tying everyone down to Flash. After all, they've got several tools already available to either export your Flash workflow to HTML5 or to create new web experiences directly in HTML5.

Knee-Jerk Sensationalism: Apple and Adobe Fight to the Death!

I asked Adobe about some of the claims in the TechCrunch article and about their path for the future and they simply pointed me to a couple documents which made me chuckle.  They always tell me to contact them for comment, but then only had a "no comment" when I did. Anyway, a year ago, I already knew Adobe was on a migration path to HTML5.

I'm very anti-sensationalism in reporting and there are been some behind-the-scenes, knock down, drag out brawls between Mark and I over the wording of titles in the past because of it. I understand the need for catchy titles but I hate trying to pull readers in with something that sounds fake or over the top. Facts are facts and we just report the facts ma'am. Or rather, we do when we're reporting. When we're doing industry analysis, we use the facts as the basis for the analysis. However, some people fail to gather all the facts before spouting off some alleged analysis of what's happened or is happening and then they lure you in with things like, "How Apple Won The War Against Flash."

I'm not an Apple hater, I had a 1st generation iPhone, and currently have a brand new iPad. What I hate is the rhetoric that surrounds it all and is then propagated by seemingly tunnel-visioned journalists and publications solely to bolster their traffic numbers.

The HTML5 Landscape

First, some facts, thanks to LongTail Video and their State of HTML5 Video project.

Currently, 74% of the market can play a video in HTML5, the most notable exclusion is Internet Explorer 6-8. Even LongTail Video agrees that, "Eventually, mobile Flash support will disappear entirely." That link goes to an Adobe post talking about the increase in their own HTML5 contributions, from November of last year.

Why Adobe Really Dropped Their Mobile Flash Support longtail 2012 html5 browser

As far as the <video> tag is concerned in HTML5, there's some lack of compatibility still across browsers.

Preload and autoplay are simply ignored on mobile browsers. That's not a bad thing because it stops data consumption in the background or automatically which many mobile users still pay for outside of a standard monthly plan. So really, it's a consumer-facing move on the part of the browsers to not support that. However, there are far more technical issues that HTML5 can't yet address fully.  For example, DRM, proper full screen support and control, lack of support for the text <track> tag for captions and subtitles, adaptive streaming including the new MPEG DASH, etc.

Clearly, at this point from a technical perspective, HTML5 is not ready for prime time, but it will be soon, I have no doubt. I also believe that Adobe will still be a major player as they have all the tools for the creation, deployment and support of HTML5 websites and video. Especially since Adobe Flash Media Server 4.5 can repackage Flash video and stream to iOS devices.

What Does Adobe Say?

In one of the two documents to which Adobe directed me, "Adobe roadmap for the Flash runtimes," I found this:

With the growth of competition in the browser market, browser vendors are increasingly innovating and providing functionality that makes it possible to deploy rich motion graphics directly via browser technologies, a role once served primarily by Flash Player. Increasingly, rich motion graphics will be deployed directly via the browser using HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript and other modern web technologies. While the primary role of Flash Player as an engine for innovation on the web remains the same, what it is used for will change.

Adobe believes that the Flash runtimes are particularly and uniquely suited for two primary use cases: creating and deploying rich, expressive games with console-quality graphics and deploying premium video.

Given the maturity of the Flash platform and the fact that it can do things like DRM and adaptive streaming it will probably remain a major platform for premium video until HTML5 catches up.

One of the things that made me chuckle in the TechCrunch article was the author's complaining about the lack of 'full web access' which he then demonstrated by complaining about not all videos being available on the mobile web. However, what he fails to realize is that is most likely the result of the licensing agreements with places like Hulu and not in fact a Flash limitation. There are loads of premium video content that are available via the web on a PC but not even available via the Hulu desktop app, which would presumably be the same thing. Again, it's a limitation of the licensing more so than the delivery engine.

So Why Did Adobe Drop Flash Mobile Support?

Here's my best guess. First off, on tablets and smartphones, you generally have an app for wherever you are going to get your video content from, YouTube, Hulu, etc.  They all have their own apps, so I imagine that Flash mobile browser implementation was pretty low to begin with. Why continue to pour resources into something that will probably never see widespread adoption when there are numerous stand alone apps that are the crux of the video viewing on those platforms? The same goes for the games, each one is its own app and I think that a platform like Unity or Unreal Engine will do far better than Flash anyway, because those engines were built specifically for games while Flash was built as an all around rich media platform. So again, why waste resources on continued support?

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Additionally, since Apple is just under 30% of the overall market for smartphones, there's little justification to show that they had anything to do with the decision. The major news, as pointed out by the article, was that Adobe would not make Flash for Android 4.1 and, as you can see below, that currently is the major market share owner with 39%.

Why Adobe Really Dropped Their Mobile Flash Support june 2011 smartphone share

Why did Adobe abandon Flash for Android? Probably for the same reasons listed above. On top of that, with a new version will probably come new features that will fully integrate the full gamut of HTML5 <video> tag attributes and actions. Since Adobe already has Flash -> HTML5 paths available and the install base for Flash would continue to be low, it makes sense to slice that fat off and toss it in the fire.

Here's more from their road map:

Flash Player 11.1 is the last release of the Flash Player plug-in for mobile browsers. Adobe will not add support for new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.). Adobe will continue to provide critical bug fixes and security updates for existing device configurations through September 2012, and will also allow our source-code licensees to continue working on and releasing their own implementations.

Adobe continues to actively invest in enabling developers to create and deploy Flash based content as mobile (and desktop) applications via Adobe AIR.

For Android specifically it has this to say.

Beginning August 15, 2012, the Flash Player plug-in for mobile browsers on Android will only be available on the Google Play Store for devices certified to run Flash Player and which are preinstalled with Flash Player. Flash Player is not supported on Android 4.1 and users should uninstall Flash Player prior to upgrading to Android 4.1.

Why? Probably because there's no need to continue it. Meanwhile, for other platforms there are still plenty of reasons to continue for example:

Flash Player "Dolores"

Adobe is planning an additional Flash Player release in the second half of 2012. Code-named "Dolores", this release focuses on enabling features and functionality for the gaming market, as well as improvements for general Flash Player use cases.

Some of the features planned for this release include the following:

  • ActionScript workers (enables concurrent ActionScript execution on separate threads)
  • Support for advanced profiling
  • LZMA compression support for ByteArray
  • Support for hardware-accelerated video cards for Stage3D expanded to 2006
  • Improved ActionScript performance when targeting Apple iOS
  • Performance index API to inform about performance capabilities of current environment
  • ActionScript 3 APIs to access the fast-memory opcodes (premium feature when used in conjunction with Stage3D APIs)

Plus, with Adobe AIR becoming their new dominant platform, for example on TV where they even say:

While we have historically licensed Flash Player for general web browsing on TVs , we do not recommend this approach given the difficultly of ensuring consistent and high-quality "full web" browsing on TV hardware.

So you can use it for video playback, but even Adobe acknowledges it's not all that great for full web browsing.

So Is Flash Really Dead? Did Apple Really "Win a War"?

No, and, uhhh, no. Flash is still, and will continue to be for a few years, a major platform for premium video delivery. Granted, it was never the best games platform and I think there are far better ones, but this isn't really about that.  Third parties are still building flash-based experiences and it's still a leader in premium video content, because of things that HTML5 can't quite do yet. Will it be supplanted one day by HTML5?  Perhaps. Is that day today? No. Did Apple win some war? Any tech savvy person should know the answer to that already.  I trust you're all enlightened enough to deduce what they were really doing by now.

In my opinion, Apple simply pushed forward an immature agenda as HTML5 was not ready to be widely adopted, especially for premium video content, and it seems to me that it might have been more of a personal butt-hurt than anything. Adobe must have slighted them somehow in the past (perhaps by withholding an Adobe Flash cert in the first place?). Maybe that's why they refused to comment. HTML5 still hasn't been stabilized and certified itself, so forcing any industry to use it in order to play nice with your products really seems more like Apple wanting to be the control freaks they are instead of thinking of the best interests of the developers and consumers. With Flash, they had far less control I'm sure.

Besides, if Flash was dead, why would all the major online video providers have a fallback to Flash implementation? I mean, if it were truly dead, that would be totally unnecessary and just extra work with zero return which makes for bad business. Right?

  • Wally Wanks

    Why does everyone act like FLASH was a video format only? Anyone who uses Flash knows its WAY more than a video player. So in terms of replacing the functions that FLASH can create, you need many products and alot of complicated work and support. CSS and Javascript are getting us there, but the change is going to be rough, as anyone who has multiple devices knows you have to have 3 browsers (just in case a website goes wonky in one, you switch to another).
    I loved FLASH early on, as it gave us so much, and I am not sure why it could not hold its place in line, but I don't worry about that, I am still about GETTING THE JOB DONE, and now I have 4 tools to do what FLASH did, and it SUCKS!!!
    HTML 5 and CSS and JavaScript Libraries keep 89% of potential developers STUCK INSIDE TUTORIALS and eventually going to a browser based app, and NEVER understanding the entire work flow...
    So YAY, welcome to the inconsistent and NOT EVEN a STANDARD YET, HTML 5
    world! website have NEVER looked SO DIFFERENT on SO MANY DIFFERENT DEVICES!!! YAY... also new term of the day MEDIA BREAK POINT....
    I must say, it will help me make more cash, as Most website developers are taking a PATH A.. simple 4GL tools, which always lead you to dead ends, in front of your CLIENT! Path B is to become a programming cyborg and a designer all at the same time! weeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaa

  • Matt Olfson

    All I know is a few things: (1) Despite this article's age, it is still remarkably relevent given the ongoing complete lack of Flash support for Android devices. (2) Despite the alleged imminent demise of Flash, it is still aggravatingly prominent across the internet. And (3) because of this seemingly arbitrary Android boycott on Adobe's part, my brand-spanking-new Nexus 7 cannot play a simple audio-only podcast or play the vast majority of games on Facebook. Meanwhile the Apple snobs are receiving an abundance of love from Adobe, leaving me still wondering "WHY???".

  • BD

    Just a note on the reasons why Apple wanted to remove Flash from their ecosystem.

    Back in 2002 Macromedia introduced Flash Video (Sorenson based) in Flash 6. Apple indicated that they considered themselves as the web video company. At that point Apple removed Flash from their website and any other place they used it. Later from the Quicktime product (Quicktime supported Flash 5 tracks -- custom overlays on video called Quicktime Interactivity and was directly supported by Apple), and from any application which supported Flash content. From all indications Apple's main priority was to take back control of web video by any means (Apple and MS are the primary beneficiaries of MPEG LA licensing).

    As a comment on client side execution: Apple indicated that Flash was insecure, but the biggest risk for consumers is Javascript, which is the hole through which 99% of Flash 'security risks' executed through (Flash, if given approval by the user, can execute Javascript). Javascript-free browsing is the only secure way to get information but Apple's approach calls for a Javascript only future. Client side scripting (Flash, Silverlight, Java or Javascript) is generally dangerous and does nothing to improve the delivery of information or content to consumers. The safest way to browse the web is to disable Javascript. Given the nature of Flash, with Javascript disabled it's actually more secure than any other client side scripting environment (very highly sand-boxed and restricted from access to the users system).

  • dayop

    love flash, i use it daily for games, videos, listening music.

    this tech rock :D

  • andrewi

    Apple dropped Flash support because of OS X. Historically Apple's implementation of Flash (remember that Apple like to implement all third party functionality that they put in their software updates themselves so all they started with was a UNIX binary) was very poor. It would consume near 100% processor on most machines just to play basic 240p Youtube video. Adobe rightfully told Apple it was their problem, and were unwilling to adapt their code for OSX specifically at thier own expense.

    That is the root of the problem with Adobe.

  • Video Production Company

    Great article. And I can't believe you spoke so much about flash and HTML5 without mentioning codecs. I guess the WebM/h.264 stand off has given us some kind of interim stability! @RazorX makes a good point - we're always managing clients' expectations around 'I want it to play on my iPad/HTC etc!' with 'What do you mean it's not secure/can't be captioned dynamically/won't play pre-roll etc etc etc.' and the compromise has been to create increasingly complex javascript/jquery based players to give people dynamic poster images, loadable captions, clickable regions etc. One knock on effect has been a huge increase in resources to create and customise these players and a massive customer support burden helping people implement and scale them. Makes me nostalgic for the good old days of an object/embed code... 

    • Christophor Rick

      Video Production Company  WebM is all but dead. Even Google couldn't manage to get it supported properly in Android and if they can't support their own codec, why should anyone else, right?

  • RazorX

    The HTML5 movement is really less about HTML5 tags and more about heaping on large amounts of jQuery in an attempt to simulate the multimedia functionality of Flash. As an example, a lot of web sites are replacing simple Flash image rotators with jQuery ones, however, trying to replace complex audio, video, and animation built in Flash is a huge challenge for HTML5/jQuery that isn't going well. I for one see the return to JavaScript as just a return to 1999 coding. Turn off JavaScript and all that jQuery dies. A good developer will design a web site that can still run properly without JavaScript on. You should really only depend upon HTML,CSS and server-side programming, because client-side JavaScript is still a security risk.

    • SusieWalling

      RazorX I read you comment and I you seem to understand HTML and Flash web site development. I am creating a web site and my developers aren't being straight with me. I would like someone to give me some advice with out their hand in my pocket. The site s being developed with HTML right now and it flat. I need it to be more like an app, fun to use and animated. Would it be wise to build a site around Flash now or not. This is a site that needs to bee extremely secure.Can you give me your expert opinion? I can provide you with more info if you need it.

  • JosephLabrecque

    Really refreshing to see someone write about Flash Player and actually do some research beforehand. Thank you.

  • americancuervo

    Nice job.Great to see an objective article about still useful and pertinent technology at a time when the irrationality regarding the "enemy of Flash" is ludicrous at best...... paz

  • fairygodmother

    you should take a look at they power the ABC/ABCFamily and WatchDisney apps and are as far as I know the only streaming provider that can handle all above listed devices with a single format, they take what works on iOS and make that work on all other format. 

    • Christophor Rick

      fairygodmother There are a good deal of others that do the same thing actually.