It’s been impossible to miss the storm of controversy in the tech field over Adobe Flash. By blocking Flash content on the iPhone and iPad, Apple has single-handedly inspired clients and advertisers alike to shy away from an industry standard. Under the barrage of ad campaigns and open letters, it’s easy for a marketer or advertising executive to be left wondering which way to turn, especially when so much of the debate is dominated by developers throwing around highly technical jargon. Ultimately, that decision should come from a thorough analysis of what you’re trying to accomplish and who your audience really is.
When marketers refer to using Flash, they are frequently thinking of it as a video compressor, and this is where some of the most vocal opposition to Flash comes from. The complaint is primarily poor performance in regards to CPU usage, but how accurate is that complaint? Flash performance is based on the plugin’s ability to access hardware acceleration, and Apple is not giving Adobe access to the tools they need to reduce the load. It’s not difficult to conclude that Apple’s block is more about pushing mobile users to buy videos at their store than it is about doing them a service by blocking video readily available for streaming all over the Internet, but the bottom line is the iPhone won’t use it anytime soon. Is the alternative Apple offers in HTML5 a viable option?
According to YouTube software engineer John Harding, the answer is no. HTML5 falls short in dynamic quality control, buffering, the ability to play full-screen and as uncompiled code and suffers from the ultimate shortcoming: no protection for copyrighted material. It’s also far from being an industry standard. HTML5 has yet to adopt a standard video format, and browser inconsistencies will continue to plague HTML5 for years to come. Video is not its only downfall either. The “canvas element” for HTML5 has been prematurely lauded as a rival to the interactive aspect of Flash. Since current experiments are crude, only sophisticated browsers support it, and few knowledgeable Flash developers would be willing to give up the wide scope of what they can already accomplish to learn it anytime soon. Flash is by nature a compiled application, something Flash game developers rely on to keep their work protected. HTML5 for games would not only require an excessively lengthy amount of coding to do the same job, it would expose it to the world.
There are alternatives to Flash that can accomplish some of the same purposes with fewer drawbacks and higher cross-platform compatibility. JQuery is quickly becoming a replacement for Flash slideshows because it is commonly supported and does the same job – a simple web effect that can take longer to replicate with Flash in terms of load time and future adjustments. Very few websites are built entirely in Flash anymore and shouldn’t be, not only because of compatibility issues and the time it takes to edit, but also because nothing beats the ease of establishing good relationships with search engines like text that lives outside of a compiled application.
It’s important to keep your audience in perspective. For the average website, between 75 and 85 percent of visitors are on a PC using Internet Explorer, and in spite of the hype, those visiting on a cell phone or iPad will be less than 1 percent. Consider this: are your friends with iPhones using them to browse business websites or do you more frequently see them using applications developed specifically for their device? While the number of users visiting websites on mobile devices will surely rise, analytic trends from the last five years show that these numbers have hardly budged up to this very week, and any change is likely to be slower than you might think.
Although the direction of Internet development is always bright and exciting, it’s also certain to be a vast hodgepodge of alternate technologies, for nothing in the world of competing browsers has ever been consistent. Keeping a close eye on your analytics will guide the Internet developer to the right tool for the right job, and Flash will continue to be one of those tools for the foreseeable future.