Happy death of Flash day!

Calob reported on today’s removal of Adobe Flash from Google’s Play Store yesterday, and did so in a very objective, professional manner. I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to wish you all a happy death of Flash day, and celebrate the day when (if you ask me) one of the worst things to ever happen to mobile devices is finally history.

The late Steve Jobs and I have very different opinions on a lot of things, but not Flash. I personally think that he should have the credit for this historic day, as the decision not to support Flash in iOS is probably as close to a one-hit knockout as you get. Change is slow, and the age old motto of not fixing something that isn’t broken sometimes extends to not fixing something that is only partly broken. Steve managed to make Flash content fully broken on so many devices that it ended up costing both advertisers and content publishers money to not fix it. That fix is HTML5, a technology that has steadily grown in adoption throughout the last few years. It’s the successor to Flash, even according to Adobe itself.

The problem with Flash is that it’s a resource intensive technology that eats both performance and battery life for breakfast. I can still remember back to the days when running YouTube in fullscreen was a challenge, and my poor Viliv S5 UMPC had a few run-ins with Flash that didn’t end too well. Just a few weeks ago there was a major bug relating to how the latest version of Chrome interacted with the latest version of Flash for computers (which is still alive), and I was without a working Flash player for a while until it was fixed.

On mobile device’s there’s also the issue of how the player works in Flash versus HTML5. A Flash player is a self-contained unit, so it will have the controls that it’s designed to have. That makes some Flash players extremely hard to operate on small screens, whereas HTML5 hands off the video to the device’s player. The difference can be seen below, which shows a YouTube video playing using Flash compared to HTML5.

The video being replaced with black in the HTML5 screenshot is actually a result of the difference in how the two systems work, as video content doesn’t appear in screenshots or screencasts. The HTML5 video actually works as video, whereas the Flash player doesn’t. It’s also next to impossible to use the controls for the YouTube player on my Galaxy S II’s 4.3-inch screen because everything is scaled to fit a computer screen.

Unfortunately there are some downsides of Flash going away. Not all sites and services have quite caught up yet, and only offer certain content in Flash form. Some sites are also rather misguided in how they treat mobile devices, charging money for access to HTML5 versions of content that is available for free as Flash. This is because HTML5 isn’t as dynamic when it comes to embedding ads, which is how many services and sites make their money.

Of course Flash will still exist on many devices after today, but at least the number of Flash-enabled Android devices should drop from here on out. I realize many people rely on Flash, but that number is getting smaller by the day. Sometimes peaceful co-existence between technologies isn’t possible, and I think that if iOS had gone down that route instead, we’d be far behind where we are today as far as HTML5 integration goes. Getting rid of Flash on mobile devices once and for all might be bad for some, but I think it’s going to benefit everyone going forward.

Good riddance, if you ask me.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets and tends to stick with his choice of device for a long time as a result of that. After a five year break from writing, he's back to share this view with the world once again.