The short is answer is mostly. There’s no doubt Flash is witnessing its final years due to the proliferation of mobile and tablet use; and while HTML5 and the like have much to offer there are several issues that are delaying a complete transition from Flash. Flash won in the late 90’s and early 2000’s for several reasons: great support for typography, animation, solid development tools (i.e. Flash / Flex Builder), rich interactivity and casual gaming. And it worked reliably across a myriad of browsers and operating systems. With the addition of VP6 video codec in 2005 Flash also solved the multi-codec – multi-player hassles that plagued developers for years. For those too young to recall, it was standard to provide separate videos and player pages for each of the major solutions such as Quicktime, Real and Windows Media Player.
According to current statics from the WC3, only 5% of IE users have IE9, which is to say ~15% of your users are unable to experience all the bells and whistles of a modern (non-flash) site. Adding fuel to fire are the myriad of mobile devices with a dizzying array of performance and capability profiles. Even highly homogeneous Apple products show speed variances greater than a thousand percent between device and version. I’m reminded of the William Gibson quote, “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
For highly interactive sites, think casual games, augmented reality or high performance 3D experiences, the situation is far worse. Flash covers +90% of current users but is clearly on the way out and essentially absent on the fastest growing segments of computing, mobile and tablet. The current crop of tools, jQuery, for example, are sufficient for modest interactivity and do a great job obfuscating browser compatibility differences (other than speed variance), but none offer the depth of features that game development require-just to name one. While it’s technically possible to build casual games like ‘Pirates Love Daisies’ from whole cloth, cost and compatibility issues make it unfeasible for all but a very select set of projects.
Unless you’re willing to eschew a substantial segment of your audience, all of this nets out to increased development and maintenance cost versus reduced functionality, sophistication and impact. And for nearly all clients, that’s a very painful choice.
So when can we close the door on Flash and get back to making cool stuff?
First and foremost, that pesky 15% of IE users not using IE9 needs to drop. While Microsoft is working hard to make this happen corporate environments are particularly slow to adopt new technologies. If your business is B2B, you may experience a jump in that excluded share to 40-50%.
Second, the insanely disparate mix of mobile devices needs to come into sharper focus. As creators we need baseline functionality and performance across platforms. A technical “Lowest Common Denominator” if you like. Coming for Flash that “LCD” feels very low indeed.
Finally, we need development tools that match the sophistication and depth of Flash because for over a decade people have come to expect the rich interactivity and beauty that Flash has allowed. The combination of issues means that developers and designers have to substantially dial back the “wow factor” in order to achieve high stability, performance and functionality across platforms. Alternatively, clients will have to spend a fortune to create custom executions for each environment: iPhone app, Android app, mobile site, tablet site and standard site. For many clients this cost will be impossible to budget and manage for both external agencies and in-house creative teams.
Until then developers and clients will have to make tough trade-offs between cost, compatibility and rich interactivity. Two years ago the iPad didn’t exist and Flash was going strong. With luck, the story will be very different two years from now.
For more information:
WC3 Schools Statistics
Pirates Love Daisies (a Microsoft commissioned gaming project that was built to showcase IE9’s improved performance and capabilities compared to other browsers)
The Evolution of Web Development Tools