Last week Adobe announced that they will no longer continue developing Flash Player for mobile devices, and that they plan to “increase investment in HTML5”. Coming hard on the heels of other Adobe press releases revealing significant job cuts and the acquisition of Nitobi with their PhoneGap HTML development framework for mobile, some pundits are declaring that Flash is dead and HTML5 is now the technology of choice for delivering rich content to both web and mobile.
The first thing to note here is that Adobe has only stopped development on the browser-based Flash Player for mobile. They definitely haven’t abandoned Flash on mobile altogether. Instead, they’re concentrating their efforts on Flash AIR, which allows Flash code to be built into native apps. This achieves the same aim of ‘write once, run anywhere’ but without the need to go through the device’s browser, and with improved performance and better integration with the native platform.
There’s an important shift of emphasis there. Flash Player runs in the browser, which made sense in a world where the website was almost the only channel of digital content distribution. But times have changed, and providers now have better options for delivering rich content. The key for Flash now is in its ability to allow quick development of powerful, interactive content that works across the ever diversifying array of platforms, and despite the negative publicity they’ve brought down on themselves the change to concentrate on AIR makes sense for Adobe.
HTML5 is an increasingly powerful platform for developing applications, and has a fashionable buzz around it – but that buzz conceals some important weaknesses. Using it can mean twice or three times as much development work compared to a technology such as Flash designed for graphically rich content – and deliver a less compelling end result. While it will continue to evolve, it’s a long way off reaching parity with Flash for either what’s possible or how easy it is to achieve. And the shift to focus on AIR instead of an in-browser Flash Player as a solution for mobile gives Flash additional advantages over the web technologies. The use of Flash will become less obvious to the consumer, but between the developers looking for ways to achieve better results cross-platform and the increasing number of Flash-experienced programmers shifting from web to tablet, Flash with AIR is very well positioned to keep increasing developer uptake.