It’s Thursday, December 5, 2019 in Austin, Texas
Adobe Drops Mobile Flash Player Dev
Was Steve Jobs right? A bad fit for mobile devices?
Adobe announced this past week that they would no longer develop new Flash players for browsers on mobile devices, and they would instead concentrate on developing HTML5 tools and standards.
Having an iPhone myself, I'll guess we'll never know how a Flash player would have performed on Apple's hardware. It is likely true that highly interactive Flash elements would have been processor intensive and a battery drain. Given the wide variety of hardware specs on mobile devices, it would have been difficult to determine how your Flash application/element would have performed across those devices.
With the current web focus on SEO and seachability, entirely Flash websites have been out of vogue for quite some time. Those type of websites were also generally extremely time consuming to create and make changes to.
The one area of web design and development that Flash really excelled at was as a universal player of streaming video content. For years, web developers struggled with ways to deliver video to end users. The problem was that there wasn't any universal video player broadly distributed and pre-installed across computer operating systems and browsers. Additionally, the player installed generally determined the video format to use. Prior to the introduction of Flash video streaming capabilities, any videos on websites would require instructions about how the user needed to install QuickTime or Real Media if they wanted to view the video. The Read Media program in particular became a piece of bloatware with lots of popups and advertising. The Windows Media files weren't generally usable on Apple computers. And many of the formats and players required special server hardware to stream the videos effectively, or would require the end user to wait for the entire large video file to download.
Adobe's Flash player essentially solved all those headaches, and it also provided a customizable player with potential for digital rights management. Essentially one video file could be created and served to users on multiple platforms, generally without the need for them to install any additional software. Technically the Flash video files are actually container files with video encoded using one of the supported codecs. But essentially, a web developer could "encode once" and serve video effectively to most web users. The Adobe Flash player became the de facto standard for incorporating video into a website.
The video capabilities of Adobe's Flash player enabled and fostered the creation of the widely popular video based websites like YouTube, Hulu, and Vimeo.
Steve Jobs decision not to allow Adobe's Flash player onto Apple's mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad -- threw a monkey wrench into video embedding on websites. He advocated for HTML5 video, but HTML5 is still an evolving standard and not incorporated into older browsers still used by many web visitors.
HTML5 video is still somewhat hampered by the competing video formats supported (and not supported) by the different browsers. The 3 main video formats are Ogg Theora, H.264, and VP8 (WebM).
It would be nice if a royalty-free open format like WebM were completely supported across all major browsers. This would solve most of the outstanding HTML5 video issues. But currently, that particular resolution does not seem likely.
So as it stands now, to truly implement video across most all browsers and platforms would require the creation of 3 different files:
- One WebM file for HTML5 enabled Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Konqueror
- One H.264 file for HTML5 enabled Internet Explorer and Safari
- One FLV or F4V file for Flash player to play on older non-HTML5 browsers still used by many web visitors
The creation of 3 different files and addition of fallback legacy code for non-HTML5 browsers actually has made embedding video more complicated (not less).
That is the primary reason that so many sites still use the Flash player for embedding video and haven't tried to migrate everything to the still evolving HTML5 standard just yet.
Hopefully the final HTML5 standard will simplify things again, as was the original intent.
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