The Twilight of Flash

Adobe Flash is a multimedia and software platform for authoring animation, games and Rich Internet Applications that can be viewed and played in Adobe Flash Player. Flash has commonly been used on web pages to add streamed video or audio players, interactive media content, and advertisements. Through manipulation of vector and raster graphics, Flash is used to animate text, drawings, and still images.

Flash has been on the decline, however, and is being replaced in some areas by JScript, JavaScript, HTML5, and other open technology. Though Flash is unlikely to disappear, there are several reasons why its use has declined and probably will continue to do so. One cannot simply render Flash on your web browser; rather it requires Adobe Flash Player. Though freely available, the player is proprietary. Other Adobe tools may be required for website construction and can be expensive.

Perhaps most importantly, Flash is not compatible with the iPhone or iPad. Steve Jobs was reported to dislike Flash and Apple never used it on its devices, which is arguably one of the major reasons users have shifted to different technology. In 2011, Adobe stopped producing Flash for mobile platforms. Mobile devices use HTML5 instead.

HTML5 can be used as audio and video streaming alternative to Flash. Like Flash, it includes features for playing audio and video within websites and both can use integrated vector graphics. Unlike Flash, all web browsers support HTML to some degree. However, HTML5 is immature and cannot yet compete with Flash for advanced uses like gaming. Hence, at least on the upper end, Flash is likely to be around for quite some time. No existing or proposed technology can equal Flash for high level animation and interaction.

Another major issue with Flash is that if you do not have the same version of Flash as the site uses or do not have a Flash plug-in at all, the program does not work at all - there is essentially a blank in the screen. This all or nothing problem is unpopular with users.

In addition, Flash cannot be used by disabled persons who cannot use a mouse to navigate the web. The Americans with Disabilities Act extended its requirements to the internet in 2000 and many sites cannot or will not use Flash because it does not meet the ADA's requirements.

With respect to Flash's accessibility problems, JavaScipt, JScript and others may be superior alternatives, at least for animation. For example, JavaScript libraries work well across almost all platforms and with minor programming, the content works even for users who do not have JavaScript enabled. If the user's JavaScript is not working, lower-featured HTML-only versions kick in so even then the user has something with which to work. If you turn off JavaScript, the site goes to still-only but again, it is not the "blank" that Flash leaves. For these reasons, in the past two years, the open framework programs have overtaken Flash for basic web animation and for creating effects like slide shows or animated menu.

Flash will not disappear entirely, however. It has historically reached beyond the open standards and technology and is still the best solution for streaming audio and video. Everyone who sees Flash is able to interact with it in exactly the same way. Nothing equals its high-end audio and video capabilities. And on the lower end, for non-professionals, Flash is still the best tool for website creation. Flash provides a single platform to create content that most web users can access. Constructing websites with Adobe tools to support Flash is comparatively easier than doing so with CSS, HTML, and JavaScript.

Technology is ever-changing and growing. Five years ago, Flash was virtually the only option for animation, audio, and visual. Make no mistake - it is still used by a majority of the most-visited websites and is in no way obsolete. However, consumer demand for open technology and for technology that works across all platforms has lead a rise in popularity of alternate programs.