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Do we really need Flash?

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A lot has changed since the iPhone was released 3.5 years ago, but there still is no support for Flash on it or the iPad. The iPad in particular has taken a lot of heat for this as its larger screen means that people expect a more complete web browsing experience. Still, the web has come a long way in those years, and  Flash has lost quite a bit of its position in those years, so is it still strictly necessary to have it on a tablet?

Obviously the need for Flash will vary from person to person depending on what web pages you’re likely to visit. If you spend all day playing flash games you will need Flash support, but then again you’re likely to find most games available in a well stocked app store. Flash does use a lot of power and so that solution will certainly allow you to play for longer than you would if using Flash. Some people even say the massive difference in battery life between the iPad (12 hours) and the Galaxy Tab (7 hours) is due to the Galaxy Tab supporting Flash although simple matters of battery size and efficiency has more to do with that.

Personally I am often amazed by how similar the Internet looks on the iPad compared to on a computer, as there really aren’t many sites that break completely if your browser doesn’t support Flash. HTML5 and other alternative methods for creating “fancy” content has made Flash redundant in many cases, and I think that the lack of Flash on iOS has helped accelerate the growth of these standards. Most major video sites support h.264 streaming now as an alternative to Flash, which means you won’t get those “Flash required” notices as often as you used to. Ad companies have also moved to formats that are supported by everyone so you don’t risk losing out on any incredible offers when using a Flashless browser either (I’m sure you are relieved to hear that…). That mostly leaves games as I’ve already mentioned, and sites that use Flash for UI elements. Personally I hate such sites even on a PC because they are often slow both to load and use and they break certain features in a browser such as clicking the mouse wheel to open a link (doesn’t work on Flash elements) and CTRL+T top open a new tab (disabled when interacting with Flash elements. I don’t use any such sites myself, but as I said, it all depends on what you yourself do on the Internet.

Flash is also something of a menace on Windows tablets, especially those based on netbook hardware (such as netbook tablets and UMPCs). The chipsets used in those devices are often designed to play back h.264 video using hardware decoding in the graphics chip (DXVA, DirectX Video Acceleration) which means that my Viliv S5 which is at times almost too slow to open notepad will still play 720p h.264 video like it was no big deal (which incidentally looks awesome on a 4.8″ 1024×600 screen). Flash is supposed to support this, but as with everything Flash it doesn’t really work in practice. The result is a very peculiar situation where you can play back all the 720p h.264 video you want, but if you try watching a low resolution YouTube clip embedded on a web page the device will commit virtual suicide. Given the alternatives to Flash that exist, I’m personally glad that Apple has taken a stance against it as they are one of few companies who could actually put enough pressure on the Internet that it would change, and that benefits everyone- not only iOS users. I’m guessing that in 5 years time, we’ll look back at Flash as a curiosity of the past.

However it’s not only Flash that Apple has left behind, Java has also been left out of iOS. This used to be a much bigger deal for me since my online banking service uses Java for authentication. No Java, no authentication. It’s still an issue when I have to authenticate when paying with a credit card (which incidentally is an extremely pointless system since it only works on sites form within this country, no international sites) but my bank came out with an iOS app that let you access all the online services from the app. This seems to be happening with a lot of services that normally require heave Flash use or Java support, for instance WordPress itself which this site uses. Having everything optimized for a specific device is extra work, of course, but the benefit is not only that it works but that it often ends up being easier to use than the original web based version. While there’s a lot to be said for web based apps, I personally prefer the native apps because they work better.

The point of this article was not to give you a definite yes or no answer to whether we need Flash, but rather to look at the different aspects of the situation. There are a lot of people who blatantly hate something without looking at the implications of it all, and the same goes for Flash. While Apple is more than a little arrogant in refusing to support Flash and that might be a dealbreaker for some or a  minor annoyance to others, there are definitely positive things happening on the net because of it. So while we might still need Flash, the need for it is certainly diminishing by the minute.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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16 thoughts on “Do we really need Flash?

  • Avatar of Alex Turco

    With regards to websites using Flash and the iPad, I have found some apps that allow for Flash videos to be played thru the app itself. Just input a site in the app that uses Flash but normally would not play directly thru the iPad and voila!!! My friend and I were duscussing this problem when I jokingly asked him to shop for an app that will allow Flash supoort. Five minutes later he found one, bought it and installed it and it worked. I just wish I can remember the name of the app itself.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Willrandship

    Sounds useful. Too bad you can’t remember the name.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Matt Kirk

    But what about online flash games?

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    • Avatar of macilaci457

      Games are always better natively than in flash.

      Reply
      • Except nobody has pointed out that Flash actually runs faster than HTML5 and WebGL on ALL PLATFORMS BUT APPLE!!! People are funny – they take what Steve Jobs says as gospel yet don’t even bother to do a basic google search for benchmarks that actually test the theory!

        The proof is all over the internet. Search flash v html5 benchmark (after you read the rest of the post :))

        Q: What is the reason Flash doesn’t run as fast on Apple products?
        A: Apple restricts flash by not opening up hardware acceleration hooks via their API. Safari will obviously render HTML5 much faster since, as an apple product, the developers had full access to the lowest level of hardware optimization. Adobe is essentially locked out of hardware optimization on Apple. On other platforms, where Flash gets a fair shake, it’s most recent version, which takes advantage of hardware graphical acceleration (‘graphic cards’) is less CPU intensive and faster when tested vs html5 equivalent (in some benchmarks its doubly efficient).

        It’s like having a race between a runner and a man FORCED to hop on one foot and declaring the man who hopped is a “SLOWER RUNNER”.

        Is it any surprise though?! Adobe has had a decade to make fine adjustments to each platform its plug-in is hosted on, html5 is only now being integrated. As a ‘programmer’ — it was that claim that made me seek out benchmarks – if html5’s *initial implementation* was that much more efficient than Adobe’s Flash 10’s MAJOR revision, it would SERIOUSLY make me wonder what Adobe’s engineer’s were doing. If there is 1 company that should know how to optimize for animation & video… – they revolutionized platform-independent rich-media on the web before PCs and phone had the power they have today, they also develop some of the world’s top graphic & video editting tools… On top of all that – of the many things I called (flv powered) youtube, “resource hog” wasn’t among them.

        BTW: I’m not saying HTML5 isn’t “the future” – it looks likely that it will be, like it or not… Let’s just not mixup Apple-hype with fact (I spent 15 minutes trying to come up with something clever, best I had was “Apples and Orang-facts” or “…Orang-A-facts”, which is bad enough to get me shot in some countries)
        BAH

        Reply
  • Avatar of johnnyfive

    But flash games are virtually free! :)

    Reply
  • I’d argue that for the time being, Flash is necessary. However, it’s decline in inevitable. Some great arguments in here, though.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Matthew B.

    We might not need flash, but we definitely need choice! And that’s something we don’t have right now.

    Also, for flash videos that normally won’t play (eg megavideo) use http://iosflashvideo.fw.hu/

    Reply
  • Avatar of galvor

    First thought, I am the customer and if I want it, it is not illegal, and I am willing to pay for it then I should be able to get it. This includes Flash and Java on my tablet, as well as a miriad of codecs common and uncommon, heck maybe even Silverlight and .NET.

    Second thought, Apple does not make the only tablets out there…it was not even the first, so why do everyone think Apple and its iFamily of products should be leading us down the tablet path? Apple is a leader in advertising and user interfaces but they are not known as much of a hardware or application development leader. Let’s not allow the followers become the leaders.

    Third thought, I don’t agree with the “in 5 years time” comment for a couple of reasons for Flash’s death. HTML5 is new and since when have they dragged anything out of our clingy tech fingers that quick. Also, I seriously doubt there is a computer or tablet that I have today wor will buy this year that I will still be using in 5 years. Therefore YES, at this time, I do both WANT and NEED Flash on my tablet; if it is going to be more than a big phone for me.

    Random Realted Ramblings:
    Keeping in mind that I am not a fan of Adobe, Apple, or Sun and thus do not own an iAnything, and do not install Java or Flash until I run into a site that has content that requires it…I always end up installing Flash first. In the case of java, I have some systems that still do not have it even after a year of use.

    Reply
  • Avatar of David Welden

    I would like to see the restrictions against Flash removed and against interpreted code in general. For instance, I would like to see a good iOS port of Python which would enable a very substantial number of quality applications to be ported over. Guess we have to look to Google/Android for that scenario. C/C++/Objective C have their place in the computing cosmos, but the world is a lot bigger than these braces.

    Reply
  • I think the biggest crime from the Flash development community was that it was over used and often badly.

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    • You could make that argument in the early days, when every site had those annoying ‘intros’… There were also folks who didn’t understand how to use it and html/javascript together to create a cohesive experience — so you had these ‘all flash’ sites that took forever to load (& Search Engine ignored)….among many other sins… Then again – one sees that whenever something completely new comes on the scene. It takes a while for the community to make mistakes and formulate best-practices.

      Reply
  • What we need is a competitor to flash so both have an incentive to make their application not suck rocks. But flash owns the mind-share and the barriers to entry are very high. So having iOS not support flash gives us hope of a competitor.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mr Manager

    No question that Flash has been overused and used in situations where it was not the best approach, but all of the arguments against Flash are really arguments against using it as a developer. I don’t think that this should influence hardware decisions. Right now, there’s still a fair amount of Flash on the web, and, as a user, I want the choice of whether or not I want to go to Flash sites. In short, if tablet users stop going to Flash sites because of poor performance, and this naturally leads to competition and the development of alternative strategies, then I think that’s great. But if Apple or any other manufacturer won’t (or, more likely, can’t) put Flash on their device, they’re making that decision for the user, which I don’t think is the right approach.

    Reply
  • I guess if you’ve got an app library full of games and with the turn to HTML 5 their is no real need for flash.

    Reply

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