Adobe Flash: A Study

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It can be said that in the current climate, Flash appears to be dying, but rather than calling it dying, perhaps we can just say that Flash is being challenged. With the climate of today where there is an increasing trend of moving towards mobile devices, Adobe's lack of support of these devices and the way Flash was created for the Desktop means that Flash loses the competitive edge when compared with technologies such as HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. This impacts the experience of Flash cross-platform, particularly as they lack both the design and the support on mobile devices.

There's no replacement

Flash is still an important tool in developing websites particularly in supporting animations and games, although most people likely do not wish it to be, considering that it consumes system resources and Apple stubbornly (but seemingly rightly) does not support it, even though you can install the Flash Player while on a Mac if you really wish to run it. Arguably the old reasons of why to use flash (that it supports animations and interactivity) can be considered not relevant in the current climate as CSS3 and JavaScript has filled in the gap in that area, while achieving what Flash lacks (or appears to).

At this time though, there does not seem to be a good technology to replace Flash, rather a conglomeration of technologies that can in conjunction reproduce something to a similar degree. Flash has teamed up with OpenSource technologies such as PhoneGap and CreateJS allowing projects written in Flash to then be exported in JavaScript.

This will likely give them leverage in the mobile web, yet this does not particularly seem to show that Adobe are embracing Flash to be used in the long term, but merely justifying reasons for Flash to be used. To me their approach seems rather strange, they are not trying to revitalise the product but rather just allowing their developers to continue writing in the same way while exporting their work in different type of code. When you consider Flash's roots as an animation tool and to quickly mock up things, that is quite ironic... (Additionally exported works potentially would contain similar design flaws as current works - read on).

Coffee and Newspaper instead of Computer?

What are some negatives of Flash?

We all have plenty to say about Flash, but perhaps it's not always the fault of the technology, but sometimes those that use it.

  • Flash encourages bad design. The same designs are used, and user control is diminished. But this is not necessarily a problem with Flash itself (rather it is poor decisions on part of the developers). This leads to usability and accessibility problems.
  • Web fundamentals are broken, as loading time/download time increases. The back button within the browser can't be used (you could say the same for JavaScript though).
  • Direct links to parts of Flash websites cannot be made.. generally. However this does not mean that it is impossible, just that most developers generally do not allow this option.
  • Flash distracts from the core values of the website, as Flash components are largely superficial and more time should be spent on updating the content of websites.
  • Flash is proprietary software, unless technologies like HTML, CSS and JavaScript. These other technologies are supported by standards committees and are open to changes from many sources in order to work out problems quickly. (Some say that this causes OpenSource software to have an 'unfinished' feel to it, but arguable this software is never finished, but in a state of constant development in order to continually improve them and keep up with the current climate (Moore's Law).)
  • Flash requires installing, so while the process may be simple, those that are not as familiar with the internet or computers unlike the current generations today will not feel in control or understand what is going on.
  • Reliability, security and performance issues. Top reasons for browser crashes are attributed to Flash, and Google hailed improved security when they sandboxed the already snadboxed Flash within their newer releases of Google Chrome.
  • Drain on battery life because of software decoding - this can lessen the battery life while doing that activity to half.
  • Flash does not support touch devices (such as most mobile devices), and was not optimised for or designed with the mobile web in mind.
  • SEO problems can occur with Flash sites as web crawlers obviously cannot pick up on any of the content of the Flash applet (unless used appropriately or extra work done).
  • Flash is not easy to edit, as the developer requires the original .fla file, which makes even simple changes a hassle.

Despite being proprietary, Flash has already saturated the market enough so that this is not so much an issue, where costs are concerned, but it remains more of an issue of the fact that because this is a closed system, updates are slower (though judging by the numbers of updates sent out per week, this would seem not the case - maybe 'less efficient' would be more adequate) and problems are identified less quickly.

Used in the right way, it is feasible for Flash to improve user experience, but from examples of current works in Flash, bad design decisions and habits mean that a potentially good technology is simply being misrepresented, but also creates bad sentiment for all that come into contact with it. Thus Flash is more often than not said to be bad for user experience. This can happen with any technology though, and isn't limited to Flash. This, however, does perhaps suggest that developers should be more adequately informed of good ways to design and develop, so increased awareness of what is good and what is bad could help.

And some positives of Flash?

Sometimes it can be hard to spot the positives, but they're there.

  • Flash is easy to learn and has a friendly user interface.
  • Flash still has a place in gaming or in animation that requires a mix of different media formats (good for in a pinch to create something quickly). Most of the popular games on Facebook are Flash games.
  • Thus, fast turnaround.
  • Flash has its an official application from Adobe, whereas HTML5 merely has frameworks and libraries so creating anything in HTML5 is a more involved process.
  • Small file sizes so easier to download... sometimes (double-edged knife as websites can take longer to load because of excessive animations). This is because Flash is vector based. Movies are also cached, so do not require reloading.
  • Cheap as far as animation programs go, if you consider it this way.
  • Good compression and packaging abilities, and is a good way to get around codec issues.
  • Can offer the same content (under the right circumstances) without needing to edit any code or create workarounds.
  • Flash can be considered more secure as the code cannot be easily edited (however also makes it harder for developers to learn off each other).

A short list, but numbers aren't everything.

Asleep at the computer

Mixed Impressions

The latest version of Flash Pro takes the user interface under consideration with a new high-resolution user interface that has different themes, support for Retina displays and makes it faster and more reliable. It is interesting that Adobe are placing much focus on improving the experience of creating Flash products. The features which they mention don't appear to particularly focus on improving users' approach to using Flash though, since they do not appear to be catering for any newcomers - clearly targeted at more experienced Flash users that are coming back for updates? What is the target group for Adobe Flash anyway?

In any case, in today's context usability and accessibility is now more valuable to us than flashy animation effects (see what I did there?). Technology is now obsessed with convenience and speed and user experience has been very much a focus. We design with the user's needs and wants in mind rather than just our own. This generally shifts to a balance of simpler, more minimalistic design.

But this doesn't necessarily mean that Flash doesn't have a place in this future - if it can be used correctly, or rather used well. You may never know where these technologies will end up, because the technology world moves quickly and we can only move with it.


Timothy Caron, Hyperwrite, SPTM College, Webmaster Forums, Prishan Tek Inc, Pixtus Forum, Tecture, Plan My Site Design Blog, A List Apart, Steve Jobs, Adobe Education Leaders, Starling Forums, ArsTechnica, 1st Web Designer, Worth of Web, Creative Bloq, Mashable, Adobe Strategic Transformation, Slashdot, Lifehacker, Neilson Heuristics, Presta Shop, Neilson Norman Group.

Top image from Plan My Site. Second image from ぶーた on Pixiv. Third image by ヤサハ キイチ on Pixiv.