When did Flash become such a dirty word?
I ask because I was flicking through the pages of a magazine the other day when I noticed an article comparing Apple’s iPad to Blackberry’s upcoming Playbook. To help potential buyers make a decision the magazine had kindly provided a summary with Pros and Cons for each device.
I was shocked to see the following listed as a negative against the Playbook: ‘Supports Flash’. WTF!? I honestly had to do a double-take. But yup, sure enough the author had clearly decided that offering the user the choice to view the thousands of Flash-based web sites and games out there was somehow a bad thing.
Now I could fully understand if the Playbook’s Flash Player performance was poor and the magazine was taking a dig at that, but to knock a device simply for providing support for a well established technology just seems crazy.
I’ve also noticed similar hatred towards Flash on the Android Market, where apps written using Adobe AIR have been getting negative reviews because of the technology they use.
Does Flash deserve the criticism it’s getting at the moment and what can Adobe do to rectify the situation?
I think I’ll leave my own thoughts on this for another post but feel free to let me know what you think.
Adobe kicked up a large fuss when they saw that they were unable to exploit a particularly lucrative new platform, leading them to wield lies about user freedoms in both blogs and the press. It caused an uproar which, unfortunately for Adobe, caused many people to start looking at Flash and critically evaluate Adobe’s closed tools and platform with the native tools.
Unfortunately, those evaluations often found Flash wanting…
I rambled on a bit more, but this comment was getting to a silly length. So if you care about the other rubbish I spouted and the conclusion I slowly meandered to, it’s at:
Here’s the summary:
tl;dr: Yes the criticism is justified, open source the player to attempt to fix it.
Basically Adobe have to shift their Flash product so they probably don’t want to open source it for business reasons. The main problem with Flash, for me, is that its never as performative as the specific mobile native language SDK solution.
For example I recently did some stuff with the Adobe AIR for Android prerelease which meant installing CS5 trial and exporting AIR packages onto Android devices. Played with it for a while and built a simple animated Clock. The flash version was fine, nice blocks dropping out of the sky, smooth, fast. The Android emulator version on my Mac was at about 50% speed and didn’t render in the same way. And on the phone it was just as bad.
My conclusion was – write it in Java and it will perform as I expect…
Adobe obviously wanted my development experience to be awesome so I would invest in CS5 for my Android development.
Sorry to *flash bash*, but for me, when I’m designing for mobile its a legacy technology. Had my AIR for Android experience been awesome then I wouldn’t feel this way – but its the same story – “Wow!! Exciting Flash for mobile! AIR for Android!” and then – “Ugh! Why is it so clunky? Why does it look different?”
Anyway, today only – 7 pm UK time: AIR for Blackberry:
BAM! Get involved – Wooooo!!! Buy CS5!! 🙂
Yeah, mobile has turned things on its head and Flash is struggling in this area. What works fine on desktop doesn’t necessarily work on mobile from both a usability and performance point of view. Plus having to support a decade’s worth of web content on mobile is also proving to be a serious headache – the devices just don’t have the hardware spec yet to manage it. I think Adobe are hoping that over the next 12 months we will see a serious boost in mobile phone performance, but a year’s a very long time in the mobile space.
I’ve tried to re-write this to make it a bit more cohesive, but I’ve sofar failed. So here it is in all it’s ranty glory.
For me it all comes down to performance, battery life, usability and suitability and in all of these departments having Flash on your device generally doesn’t help.
My home laptop is/was crippled, performance wise, by flash movies playing in multiple tabs until we installed Flashblock. It’s 1.7Ghz PentiumM. Not exactly modern, but still a lot faster than most (any?) mobile devices.
The same is true for the HTC Desire (Android 2.2). It’s noticeably slower when a webpage contains flash. And that no doubt means battery life issues. And for those familiar with Android you’ll know battery life is not one of it’s strong points already.
But how does this happen? Is this Flash’s fault? Is Flash really that bad….?
I’d say “No”. The problem seems to be that it’s abused by it’s developers, putting into websites in the most unsuitable of scenarios. For some reason certain sites use it to glue their site together. Buttons, menus, diplaying images (??), adverts etc. Some of things are justifiable, most are not. And those are the things I can see. It’s funny how many websites just simply don’t work at all when Flashblock is running, probably due to the little bits of flash that do *something* albeit sufficiently non-flash I have no idea what. There’s been this gradual “flash creep” over the last couple of years and it ruins the web. If each of these flash movies is programmed badly (think a morass of uncancelled setIntervals!!!) then collectively they add up to a fair whack of CPU time. And in most cases there is no need for them and plain HTML would have been fine.
Worse still, the bits which could justifiably be programmed in flash are done badly. Just look at the useability mess that is Channel 4’s ondemand player. It doesn’t fast forward, can get stuck with the advert (now finished) untop of and blocking the view of the main programme (now playing – you can hear but cannot see it). It’s simply terrible. And don’t get me started on Amazon’s Black Friday flash widget disaster.
But if this is ultimately developer error, how do we sort it out? Is Apple’s “no flash in the browser” decision the correct one? It’s certainly the easiet one. Perhaps we should have an approval process for flash movies? Or perhaps a crowd sourced rating system? Or get your browswer to limit flash movies to one or two per page? Perhaps we should guarantee that flash movies cannot play while that tab is not active?
Don’t get me wrong. I love flash. I think it does some wonderful amazing things and the Flash developers I’ve worked with have been brilliantly creative and really made me go “wow” on many occasions. It’s just it’s also doing some really bad, annoying things which it needs to stop doing before everyone really really hates it.
(Sorry Chris, maybe not the reply you were wanting)
Thanks Jamie! It’s really great to hear people’s opinions on the subject.
I think the Flash IDE is an amazing tool that let’s creatives/designers/developers produce some incredibly impressive content but that’s also the major problem – almost anything is possible with it and it leads to some seriously unoptimised content that requires quite a lot of grunt to run.
I think Flash is really starting to be a victim of its own success. Almost anyone can learn to use it, but only a small minority are capable of creating small and CPU friendly SWFs. It’s all too easy to rush something out the door without any consideration for the impact on CPU and file size. And I have to confess, I’ve been guilty of this too.