The Future of Flash

Posted by Paul on February 10, 2012

So... the Adobe Flash player seems to have a bit of an uncertain future at the moment, what's going to happen?

A Brief History of Flash
Flash started out in the very early days of the internet (when spinning globes and 3D text covered Web 1.0 pages) as FutureSplash Animator. It was a nice little tool for quickly creating advertising banners and simple animations around the edges of web pages.

More features were added until it was taken over by Macromedia in 1996 and was renamed Flash. As the feature list grew, it became a very popular tool due to the fact that impressive animation could be created with "tweening" through the point and click interface. This really appealed to web designers who weren't keen on code although the built-in ActionScript programming language was already quite well developed. This allowed interactivity and games to be created as well as full websites (although non-recommended for SEO and accessibility reasons) which were consistent across all browsers.

The makers of industry-leading Photoshop, Adobe, purchased Macromedia in 2005 and Flash with it. Shortly afterwards an update of the programming language ActionScript 3 was released which was more like a true programming language such as Java, meaning more complex applications could be built but many designers were never going to be able to grasp it. However, more serious programmers were attracted to it and performance increases were at least ten fold.

The iPhone
In June 2007, Apple released the first iPhone. It changed the whole mobile phone industry and became almost ubiquitous. For various reasons, cited by Apple as performance, stability and battery life but more likely to be the circumvention of their profitable app store, Flash was not supported. After a long battle between Adobe and Apple, Adobe announced that they will be discontinuing Flash player development for smartphones, which includes the popular iPad. Many predications are that internet usage will increase on smartphones and tablets and decrease on desktop PCs.

The Future
ActionScript 3 has made it possible to develop advanced applications with the Flex framework and export to Adobe AIR for desktop applications. This meant almost of of the investment banks in the City of London were using Flex for trading platforms and financial applications. Some of these institutions are now considering moving away from Flex and back to the more traditional Java for these programs.

HTML5 is being touted in the industry as a replacement for Flash although it doesn't yet have all the same features. Flash had the advantage that it was easier to author content through the Flash IDE but now Adobe are releasing tools to author HTML5 content as easily ( 

It would still be far more difficult to create a game in HTML5 than it would in Flash, and recent developments that allow the Flash player to access the graphics card mean that very impressive games are now possible ( 

So it seems that Flash won't make it to smartphones and may be replaced on the web for animation and simple interactivity on websites by HTML5 but for games (which would include a lot of Facebook apps), 3D content and video, there's still nothing like it. Good news for the many designers and developers who learnt the initially complex ActionScript 3. It seems there's life in Flash yet!

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