My thoughts on the demise of Mobile Browser Flash Plugin

Adobe has announced that it will no longer continue to develop the Flash Plugin available in Mobile Browsers, available on devices running for e.g. the Android OS. The fact that Adobe has made several moves recently to show its public acceptance of HTML5 is a known fact, but it did come as a surprise to what they decided to cut down on. I am as good or bad as anyone at reading the future, but I think this move definitely is a rude wake up call for folks delivering websites running Flash.

A Brief History

To begin with, I took on the task of learning Adobe Flex and related technologies in and around 2005, and did a good amount of work with it. I liked their development tools and for what we were developing then, they were the numero uno tools after we evaluated multiple other platforms. Ofcourse all of this was delivered ultimately to the user via the browser and so the Flash Player plugin in the browser was a key part of the runtime environment. We had some heartache at times in ensuring that everyone ran the right Flash Player plugin in the browser but since we were deploying in mostly controlled enterprise environments, it was not really a problem barring a machine or two that needed to get its act together in terms of the software installed on it.

Along came HTML5

HTML5 came along in my development career a few years back and I haven’t looked back since. With every passing day, it became clear that the browser had finally arrived with solid APIs that could be used to deliver a majority of apps that probably I might have used Flex for. And seriously, it was all about the 80-20 principle. If I could do the same with HTML5 Related technologies for a majority of applications, I found the need to use Flex less and less. The Flash Player is a mighty capable engine and while I do not know the internals of it, it is suffice to say that certain kinds of applications would definitely benefit being within the Flash Player to take advantage of it, but since I was not in that space i.e. gaming or graphics stuff, it mattered less to me.

Brothers in Arms

But what I did not have any doubt about and which HTML5 enthusiasts should acknowledge is the fact that HTML5 needed Flash to be there to make its progress. Flash over a decade or more of its existence till now has played a big role in ensuring that applications are delivered within the browser and its role in ensuring that the browser is the application delivery mechanism cannot be undervalued. So, I always thought that it would result in a good healthy contest between HTML5 and Flash Player to keep pushing the limits and thereby hastening the need for HTML5 to build features faster. One of the HTML5 guiding principles is a “World without Plugins” and if it had to meet that, it had to deliver most, if not all features that Flash Player plugin provides.

The future is staring at us or is it the other way?

The future is already onto us and it is clear that the web will be the delivery mechanism for most applications. And the browser will be the center piece of that all, atleast for web applications. It is also apparent that people are going to rely less on a desktop and more on various devices (phones, tablets and what not) to access the web. I do not want to get into the debate of Native v/s Mobile Web applications, but it is given that Mobile Web applications will constitute a huge percentage in the coming numbers, if not completely overwhelm native applications in terms of percentage. And that brings me to the question as to what would be the reason to abandoning the plugin for a device browser v/s continuing development for the plugin for a desktop? If trends are any indication, the desktops/laptops should see a percentage fall while accessing the internet from devices keep increasing.

Conclusion

Given all this, it seems that if you are writing Web applications that are to be delivered to a variety of devices (and by the way, you need to make sure you do, because users are demanding that they access your application and it function well via a Desktop, Phone or Tablet) and if you are using or contemplating using Flash to be delivered within the browser, probably it is not a prudent choice from a long term perspective. If the company with all the firepower of its product is not committing to this runtime within the browser, then why should developers jeopardize their chances of maximizing their application reach with such a technology choice.

I think the clock is ticking now. Till date, I took a very balanced view that one must use right technology depending on the need of the application. Maybe it is time now to at least inform the client that it is important to make sure that the stuff works fine in browsers over the next few years and maybe you might want to do away with dependence on the Flash Player as soon as you can. Its time to move on and concentrate solely on creating the next set of great experiences/applications inside your browser and with a plugin free paradigm.

I look forward to comments.

P.S: Looks like Microsoft is also following suit and wants to retire the Silverlight Plugin.

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