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neurofuzzy, flash game development, rich internet applications, free source code – *alt.neurotica.fuzzy*

1/25/2010

The Flash Player’s Uncertain Future

Filed under: Commentary,Flash,General — geoff @ 3:03 pm

With the alleged imminent release of the theorized Apple Tablet, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not it will run Flash. As you already know, the iPhone does not have a Flash plugin, nor standalone Flash player. The Apple Tablet, which may or may not exist, will most likely run on a derivative of the iPhone OS. Nothing has changed in the performance of the Flash Player nor on Apple’s stance with regards to it. So, it’s reasonable to assume that it will probably not run Flash.

There’s a lot of negative feeling out there for the Flash player. The main reason for the hate is because it has the ability to take down a browser, slow down web pages, drain batteries, and make an otherwise smooth web experience slow and rocky. This is occurring now on dual processor 2ghz laptops and desktops. For handheld devices trying to render full web pages, often with multiple Flash embeds, it’s too much to ask.

Adobe has recently demoed the Flash player running on mobile devices, and in the demo they showed a Flash game that utilized multitouch. The game itself looked like it was tailored for the demo.. perhaps running at about 10fps. My own games are designed to run at about 30fps on a standard desktop or laptop. On my netbook they typically run at about 15fps. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect most Flash games to run at a playable speed on a mobile device unless it was designed for mobile.

What I’m saying is this – it’s simply an unreasonable expectation, given today’s technology, to expect for Flash content designed for a desktop experience to run well on a mobile device. Someday this will not be the case, but that’s where we are today.

Now, could Adobe take steps to make the Flash player run faster and take less resources? I think they are working towards it with the Open Screen Project. But, without the ability to target something like OpenGL or DirectX in order to take advantage of hardware acceleration, there’s always going to be a wall we can’t get past.

There are a LOT of talented people making incredible content for the web in Flash. The mere fact that there is a demand for the Flash player on iPhone is a testament to this. Part of the reason for this is that Macromedia made it a lot easier for non-programmer creative types to get into experimenting in interactive content. I’m one of those people.

Of course, with this ease of use came a lot of abuse of the technology. The web is plagued now with Flash ads that consume way more resources than they should be allowed. Flash ads that use realtime pixel blending effects, complex vector art and video are plastered all over pages, slowing down the page and the content we care about. There are even video ads that play, with sound, automatically on page load. Some ads even pop out of the page and create a gigantic Flash overlay when you accidentally mouse over them. It’s out of control.

Often, this occurs on web sites (like my own) that use a third party ad network like Google Adsense, so they have little to no control over the presentation of these ads.

There’s also Flex, which may be great for larger RIAs, but using it in widgets and other parts of a web page navigation just slow down the page load and often lock up the browser. Does anyone want to sit and wait while two or three Flex embeds load in order to be able to scroll the page?

Adobe needs to work on ways to allow for the throttling of resources for specific Flash embeds through embed tag parameters, much like allowNetworking and allowScriptAccess limit how Flash embeds interact with the player. They could also, conceivably, work on a way to limit frame rate and resource consumption of an embed based on what device it is playing on. They could also add the ability to pause Flash embeds that are below the fold or otherwise not visible.

The “FLASH IS DEAD” meme, while premature, does make a point. Flash IS dead in a lot of ways:

It’s no longer necessary to use Flash to make fantastic web interfaces. AJAX allows for updating parts of a page. Great JS libraries allow for modal content, intricate UI components, and smooth transitions that enhance UX, all using web standards. The only thing Flash has over this technology is that with Flash you don’t need to test in every browser known to man. As browsers get better, and everyone switches to WebKit (please), then this will also become less of an issue.

Flash ads give Flash a bad name. They distract us, annoy us, slow down our browsing, and sometimes even crash or freeze our browser. Usually there are many of them on a single page. They are not throttled, and each one wants, and can get, 100% CPU.

Flash is proprietary, and the web is not. The DaringFireball post said it best. The web is moving farther and farther away from proprietary technologies. A lot of developers are questioning whether it’s worth it to invest time and energy into a learning skills based on one.

HTML5 is coming. Once HTML5′s VIDEO embed improves, and can take advantage of native OS video support, there’s no need to use Flash for video.

Hopefully, there’s a possibility for Flash to overcome its current problems. After all, it has pushed the envelope of web experience for the last decade. I love making things for the Flash Player, and without it I don’t think I’d be where I am today. So, in closing, thank you Flash. I hope we can stay together for another decade.

30 Comments

  1. Two Points
    The flash player continues to be optimized, and hardware gets more powerful and i'm sure the islate whatever it is will have a faster processor than the iphone! Not a problem.

    Bad developers can make poor performing content, not much any of us can do about that no matter what tools or languages they use.

    Comment by mh19 — 1/25/2010 @ 8:24 pm

  2. regardless of whether or not you agree with the points… Flash is staying ahead of the curve w/ its open screen project and upcoming 10.1 release. 10.1 being on a majority of smart phones, plus Flash being placed on TV's, plus multi-touch capabilities… all put flash as the goto for interactive media. The battle ground has left the desktop and flash already has its trenches dug in TV, mobile, and beyond.

    Comment by ickydime — 1/25/2010 @ 8:40 pm

  3. Yes, I'm hopeful the Flash Player will continue down the path of doing more using less.

    Flash ads, or any ads, will always use the maximum resources they can to get a user to click on the ad. That's why they exist. Flash ads are the neon signs of the internet. Unfortunately, these neon signs use the user's power and resources, not their own.

    This was not a problem when animated ads were only animated GIFs. They were throttled by bandwidth limitations, and used little CPU. We need a way to do the same in Flash. Throttle its resources for ads.

    Comment by ggaudrea — 1/25/2010 @ 8:42 pm

  4. Although I agree that ADs give a bad name to Flash, ADs will always be there and will always be annoying. If it's not a Flash it'll be a Javascript animation framework (or Gordon).

    There is another point that I consider more important and that's why I'm trying to stop doing Flash stuff. Do you remember Shockwave? What happened to all that content that was produced in Shockwave? Because Adobe discontinued it, all that content it's going to die (unless someone does a player for the new platforms). For example, I doubt Adobe will port Shockwave to ARM. Same thing with Flash, we're depending on Adobe for keeping or creations alive and viewable.

    But, with open technologies like html/javascript… You can still see the websites you did 10 years ago without problems, and if they don't render correctly you can easily adapt the code.

    Comment by Mr.doob — 1/25/2010 @ 8:43 pm

  5. not a bad idea on the cpu. media outlets restrict file size, but never heard of a way to test cpu usage or restrict it.

    also glad you mentioned that the ads do not have to be flash. if we moved to another technology… Silverlight, AJAX, HTML5, etc… and kept the same neon style that you mentioned, the cpu usage would be just the same.

    Comment by ickydime — 1/25/2010 @ 8:46 pm

  6. You do have some good points and at least you know about Flash so your not talking about something you don't know.

    I agree with the fact that what you build for the web won't run smoothly on mobile / tablet, but what I like about getting Flash on those is that I can use my ActionScript skills to build something specifically for the mobile. It would just open up a new world for Flash developers, and if you optimize it for mobile, that content will run anywhere.

    I am not sure you can build as beautiful UI in AJAX; Flash is compiled, JS is not, so for the same effect / transition, Flash will always be faster.

    Your are totally right about the Flash ads, they are annoying, but if Flash wasn't around it would be AJAX ads or something else. Ads pay for a lot of web content and are not about to go away. Flash just makes it easier to produce the ads, do you blame Final Cut or After Effects for TV ads?

    Lastly, about HTML5, ya it's cool that YouTube and Vimeo have a Flashless player, but I can't even see it because I use Opera or Firefox… Plus h264 is the current codec of choice, but what happens if a new codec comes around in 2-3 years with better compression to quality ratio? how much time will it take for HTML6 to come around? I am pretty sure Flash will accept the new codec faster and some video provider will switch to save money or provide a better service. We will than be back to square 1.

    These are just some of my thoughts on the topic.

    Comment by zedia.net — 1/25/2010 @ 8:47 pm

  7. I see your point, but I doubt Adobe will discontinue support for Flash anytime soon. I do agree, though, that it's time for Flash developers to widen their sights and research new technologies. I myself am trying to change the way I code games to keep them as non-platform specific as possible. That way, I need only change a few classes where the game touches the Flash display API.

    Comment by ggaudrea — 1/25/2010 @ 8:51 pm

  8. I think you should stop making Flash – clearly you see little point in continuing. But don't ruin it for the rest of us who love the technology, it's ease of use, it's consistent and reliable rendering across browsers / platforms, and it's amazing power to deliver very complex business applications that look and feel great. Personally I'm looking forward to pushing Flash app's down the AIR and the iPhone route for many years to come.

    Comment by Nick — 1/25/2010 @ 8:55 pm

  9. I'm sure everyone though Shockwave wasn't going to be discontinued, and FreeHand, and and…

    Adobe is a company, if they need to stop working on a technology because they don't get benefits from it, they will.

    Comment by Mr.doob — 1/25/2010 @ 8:56 pm

  10. Nick, I think you misunderstood the point of my post. Like I said, I love making things for Flash, and want to continue to do so.

    Comment by ggaudrea — 1/25/2010 @ 8:58 pm

  11. By the way. Do you autovote your own comments? Or do you have an admirer that thumbs up your comments just after you write them?

    Comment by Mr.doob — 1/25/2010 @ 9:00 pm

  12. I think the shockwave comparison is spurious. Flash is so ubiquitous that killing it now would leave a huge hole in the web. Off the top of my head here's a list of web content that uses Flash: Ads, Web Games, Video players, Music Players, Widgets, RIAs, Brand Microsites, experimental 'art' sites

    Flash became huge for a number of reasons but one of them is that it allows you to put stuff on the web that is not do-able in any other medium. There was a gap and Flash filled that gap.

    Regarding Apple vs Flash and the Daring Fireball article, my take is that Apple demand complete control over 100% of the user experience and therefore want to replace Flash with web standards or Apple equivalents (cocoa, objective C or whatever). IMO Apple are taking a very risky and provocative stance in disallowing Flash content from running on their web devices, even to the point of hobbling the OS X Flash player's H.264 video playback.

    Apple is ultimately hurting their customers in their quest for complete control. Apple do not control the internet and should support a plugin that every other web device can handle.

    Comment by Felix — 1/25/2010 @ 10:23 pm

  13. Haha… I honestly didn't even see those vote buttons until you said something…

    Comment by ggaudrea — 1/25/2010 @ 11:23 pm

  14. Oh weird… it just autovoted. Must turn that off.

    Comment by ggaudrea — 1/25/2010 @ 11:24 pm

  15. Yes, of course. Adobe won't kill Flash tomorrow. Something else needs to appear first, something better. Like when Flash appeared while Shockwave was filling the gap.

    Comment by Mr.doob — 1/26/2010 @ 12:06 am

  16. I definitely agree with the overall theme of Adobe needing to step it up. I don't agree with the comment that you should leave flash, because they missed the point. A lot of the anger at Adobe Flash from the people in the Flash Community (I'm not talking about the retarded straight up Flash Haters out there), is coming from a place of love. We love flash, and don't want it to go away, but where flash is going makes us worried to it's longevity. Yeah, Apple is definitely putting their necks out there, but at the same time, I know a lot of people that have been pushed to the Droid due to Apple's Iron Grip on the App Store, and it's OS. I was one of them. But I am worried about the bloat, and the issues with the Display, and the lack of Polygons you are able to push in a flash based 3d engine (away3d, pv, or even sandy). That's my 4 cents.

    Comment by Seantron — 1/26/2010 @ 12:51 am

  17. "But, with open technologies like html/javascript… You can still see the websites you did 10 years ago without problems"

    I can still see the Flash sites I did 10 years ago (in Flash 4) using Flash Player 10.

    Comment by Jason Langdon — 1/26/2010 @ 9:25 am

  18. "Often, this occurs on web sites (like my own) that use a third party ad network like Google Adsense, so they have little to no control over the presentation of these ads."

    You have control, don't use 3rd party ad networks.

    "Same thing with Flash, we're depending on Adobe for keeping or creations alive and viewable. "

    With the Open Screen Project anyone who wants to can build and distribute their own Flash Player

    "The only thing Flash has over this technology is that with Flash you don’t need to test in every browser known to man."

    The only thing? AS is a much more strict and verbose language which makes building, debugging and testing large applications much easier. Have you tried building a large scale application consuming, formating displaying large amounts of data in JS?

    "Once HTML5’s VIDEO embed improves, and can take advantage of native OS video support, there’s no need to use Flash for video."

    HTML is playing catch up and always will. I wonder how long they will all argue about which codecs to support.

    Comment by Tink — 1/26/2010 @ 10:01 am

  19. [misquote]
    Do you remember the iPhone? What happened to all that content that was produced using the iPhone SDK? Because Apple discontinued it, all that content it's going to die (unless someone does a virtual machine for the new platforms).
    [/misquote]

    The false dichotomy of the Apple versus Adobe/Flash argument misses, I think, the point that Apple's "complete control" is for some reason considered an asset by some (see Daring Fireball article), yet similar practices elsewhere (Flash==closed platform) are not. Why develop for the iPhone? Closed platform, closed hardware, closed approval process.

    My Flash relationship is a rollercoaster ride. One week Flash 10.1 will take Flash to new devices and the world of AS3 will be an amazing place. Next week, a new piece of Apple hardware will kill the whole thing.

    Should I stay or should I go?

    Maybe HTML/JavaScript *is* the stable partner.

    Comment by Anthony — 1/26/2010 @ 12:31 pm

  20. Apple has done a masterful job of marketing puffery, they have around 10% share of the computer market and around 3.7% of the global cell phone market, they are still very much minor players in my view. Flash 10.1 has a very good number of devices it can run on even if Apple's "head-in-the-sand" attitude continues to negatively effect the experience of their users.

    Comment by Mike Brunt — 1/26/2010 @ 2:42 pm

  21. Both Flash and HTML have pros and cons, let me just clarify these two misconceptions:

    Shockwave:
    Shockwave was never web technology like Flash, it was a bulky plugin, no mainstream adoption, big filesize, not as seamlessly integrated with browsers, steeper learning curve

    Downwards compatibility:
    Things I built with JS years ago mostly don't work correctly anymore, and it's not trivial to fix them. JS equals far more costs in long-term maintainance due to a fragmented and unpredictable browser market.
    Any old Flash file works without problems though, only thing that might break it are crossdomain issues.

    Comment by Dan — 1/26/2010 @ 3:05 pm

  22. as long as IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and others working in a competitive, hehehehe, there being error, so I very much doubt it is out with flash.

    Flash is no longer to do what the javascript does .. he is entering another level of programming ..

    What we are seeing today is the beginning of a new era where the flash will be part, it is no longer a tool of banner ..

    Comment by Victor C Tavernari — 1/26/2010 @ 4:41 pm

  23. 3.7% of the global cell phone market is not "minor". Especially considering that they sell over 90% of all mobile apps. I do feel however that they will need to adopt Flash Player on their devices. Users expect Flash as part of their online experience and will ultimately expect their mobile experience to be the same as the one they get on the desktop.

    Comment by Phil — 1/26/2010 @ 4:43 pm

  24. flash is still great although i'm not denying its flaws, but again HTML/JS is not a godsend platform as well.
    i think the negative sentiments towards flash is more conceived by the resulting combination of economy and plain human boredom, making a good flash site (based on my experience) takes a lot of time and money as oppose of building an HTML/JS sites and nobody dares to invest such luxury or has the necessity that requires flash in this recession time hence that triggered a massive PR by non-flash developers to defame flash to the market.
    what we are experiencing right now is a boredom/transition period, people are looking for something new and exiting, and iphone, HTML5/JS has offer a conduit to fulfill our insatiable needs.
    and i think adobe realize its up them whether to follow or lead

    Comment by Rahmat Hidayat — 1/26/2010 @ 5:07 pm

  25. Apple probably is a burr under Adobe's heel. Flash is everywhere but the iPhone and that is a tough battle. We all know the only reason Apple resists Flash is that it would lessen the value of the App store. But they won't allow any runtime interpreter on iPhone. If you develop for them, you have to do it their way making ports to other platforms more difficult. It is just another lock-in strategy that works for Apple so well.

    As for Flash crashing browsers – uh, plenty of HTML + JS does that just fine too. Take away Flash from ads, and they will just use the new tools in HTML5. Plus, there is always someone who wants to create experiences on the web – not just blog-like pages. These high-end Flash sites might someday have the ability to be replicated… maybe HTML6 or HTML7… and then what will people complain about?

    It isn't the plugin that is so awful, it is how people use it. And so far, all the HTML5 examples have been less visually thrilling than Flash. So there is still a place for that plugin and the fight will continue to get it on the iPhone to be sure.

    Comment by Brian! — 1/27/2010 @ 7:21 am

  26. It isn't the plugin that is so awful, it is how people use it. And so far, all the HTML5 examples have been less visually thrilling than Flash. So there is still a place for that plugin and the fight will continue to get it on the iPhone to be sure.

    Comment by virtual piano — 2/3/2010 @ 3:25 am

  27. You said: “There are a LOT of talented people making incredible content for the web in Flash.”

    Yeah, sure. Where? I have yet to see a Flash based website that wasn’t tiresome in about 10 seconds. And since it’s unwelcome inception Flash has been the goto plugin for serving up the most asinine and intrusive advertising. The best ones though are the ones that crank out audio at full volume and it’s not at all clear where it’s coming from. Yes, it really enriches my experience and puts me in the mood to spend money… on ammunition.

    Actually if I’m using Google Chrome, I go right to its task manager so I can strangle Flash Player in the crib.

    I actually managed to write a very useful web application for my employer that plots radio and television stations (location and signal strength) found in the FCC database using ActionScript, therefore it runs in Flash Player. It was not fun to write though. Not a big fan of the scripting language. So it has a potential for good, but it’s mostly used to deliver unwanted junk while being impossible to ignore — the animated gif on PCP.

    I could totally live in a world where Flash Player did not exist. And I wouldn’t miss a thing. I can’t believe people still tolerate that thing. On some computers I use, I routinely turn down the opportunity to install Flash at all. Others would be wise to do the same.

    Every time I have visited a marketing related website, usually to find out who and why the latest annoyance is so damn prevalent it becomes so very clear what a disservice Edward L. Bernays did to us all by legitimizing sociopathy. Nearly 100 years of the public relations industry have certainly done little to improve the human condition. IMHO.

    Comment by Richard 23 — 2/13/2010 @ 5:22 am

  28. Flash is here to stay. Adobe's products are to good, and this was a bad move by Apple, and not only because of the flash games
    As for java, that's something that will go away real soon. It's almost dead already, like coma dead.

    Comment by New Flash Games — 4/19/2010 @ 6:32 am

  29. When Flash crashes, it takes everything down with it. That is the major flaw in Flash. If Adobe can prevent the "take everything down with it" then that'll be nice. Flash developers who don't follow good programming procedures are to be blamed as well.

    Comment by Joshua — 5/11/2010 @ 3:00 am

  30. A lot of people will continue developing Flash content. Flash games are very popular, and the fact that they get sponsored and can get ads installed to generate income keeps drawing in new developers. Also, people cannot see the source code without a decompiler, and such games are easy to distribute.

    HTML5, on the other hand, does not hide the source code, and distributing said games around is not an easy task as of yet. Lots of developers will continue using flash for the said reasons. And ActionScript 3 has worked hard to overcome lots of known Flash issues and Adobe will probably keep making more progress.

    Comment by Rick — 5/16/2010 @ 4:19 pm

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