On Flash, and why I’m siding with Apple

I love Adobe Flash. I loved it just as much when it was called Macromedia Flash and before that when it was called FutureSplash Animator. I’ve used Flash for over 14 years, and have become pretty proficient in it. I can code most anything in ActionScript. We’ve even built quite a few sites in Flash, and numerous tools that, at the time, I don’t believe could have been created any other way. Over the last number of years though, I’ve tried to get away from it unless what I was working on simply couldn’t be done any other way.

What’s interesting though, is that with JQuery frameworks and other JavaScript libraries, we’ve recently begun to get to a place where most of what needed to be done could be done using tools that work on virtually any platform. I’ve owned an iPhone since it became available in Canada. This device has made me realize how dependent I am on being able to access content when on the road. It’s made me rethink how I feel about design on the web. I’ve been pushing for designers to make the move to web standards for at least seven years. I created courses when I taught at NSCAD that were based in web standards and used XHTML and CSS instead of Flash and tables. They were the first courses at the time that dealt with this, and it looks like they have continued with this since I stopped teaching there.

All this to say, I see both sides of the argument with regards to Steve Jobs’ statement on Flash. I recently (as in, just a few minutes ago) got into it with a designer who sees the latest version of Flash as a godsend for people who create stuff for the web. The new version of Adobe Flash Builder uses the Flex engine to create data-driven ‘rich web experiences’. Last I checked though, rich web experiences were possible with the other crop of open-source tools like HTML5 (and XHTML before it) as well as CSS3. We’re putting the finishing touches on a rebuild of a site that was previously created entirely in Flash and we’ve managed to maintain 99% of the animation, and yet the site works perfectly on an iPhone, whereas the previous site was just a blank, no-plugin-found icon.

As we move into a mobile world in which consumers use devices that have a lightweight OS and rely on small batteries to deliver web-based experiences, it will become increasingly important for designers and developers to work in toolsets that recognize these limitations. Flash promised designers who wanted pica-perfect control the ability to have any typeface they wanted, and control it the same way they did in Quark. Designers hate giving up control, especially when it comes to type. But with the advent of @font-face and Typekit, it’s becoming less and less of an issue.

We’re finding that the richest experiences are those where people can connect in a meaningful way with one another. An example of this would be Facebook. You’ll note that other than through crappy apps, there’s little to no Flash on Facebook. Another would be video sites like Youtube. Almost all video on Youtube can be delivered without Flash.

I think we’re on the verge of a huge shift away from Flash to open backend tools that focus more on what’s delivered than on how. And that’s a shift we should be embracing. Designers need to let go of the illusion of control and embrace the interactions that can happen when content is available for all devices, regardless of the availability of a plugin.

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