Flash in the pan: time to create a transition plan for your Web site

Steven Zussino sensed that the Flash ship was sinking and jumped off to swim for the nearest shore when he heard Apple would never support the software on its mobile iOS devices.

The president of Victoria, B.C.-based Grocery Alerts started his coding career working with Flash 10 years ago. But when Steve Jobs issued a letter explaining why he disliked Flash, Zussino agreed. Jobs argued in April 2010 that Flash was too proprietary a standard for the Web, that its security record was awful and it performed poorly on mobile devices, and that it drains battery life too quickly.

Also, using it as a coding platform in a mobile world where several major platforms are popular is just too awkward.

“It’s so counter-productive to have so many code bases for a different app,” Zussino says. “If you wanted to port it to iOS or something else, you’d have to develop your app all over again.”

Mobile developers are turning to multi-platform frameworks like PhoneGap.

Adobe conceded Flash on mobile Web platforms last November. It would focus instead on PC browsing and mobile apps packaged with Adobe AIR. Now, the discontinuation of the Flash Player for mobile browsers has begun in earnest with Adobe announcing it would not support the next version of Android, version 4.1 or Jelly Bean. Beginning Aug. 15, only Android devices that already have Flash Player installed will be able to continue to use it. No new downloads from the Google Play store will be permitted.

It begs the question for businesses using Flash on their Web sites – is now the time to transition to a different Web technology?

It’s at least time to make a plan, says Tom Green, professor of interactive multimedia at Humber College. “I don’t think its time to overnight flip the switch,” he says. “But I think we’ve started the transition away from Flash on the desktop.”

If you’re using Flash for simple things like banner ads and Web site navigation, then consider a transition to Adobe Edge. The new design tool from the Flash creator provides an alternative that allows for creation of animated Web content using HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript. It’s exciting to work with, Green says.

“The magic is back,” he says. “The first days of Flash were a wonderful time. We were like a bunch of monkeys on an island, we all huddled together because we didn’t know what was going on.”

Businesses concerned about the presentation of their Web content on the mobile platform especially need to move with some urgency, Green says. Adobe may have oversold the capabilities of Flash on a mobile platform, and its performance never lived up to live stage demonstrations that relied on locally-accessed content. A fragmented Android eco-system that saw manufacturers and carriers modifying the open source operating system also created problems for Flash on mobile – each mobile browser handled Actionscript, a code language used in Flash, differently.

“It’s the tower of Babel,” Green says.

At Grocery Alerts, a growing amount of Web traffic is coming from mobile devices like the iPad and iPhone. Now that 20 per cent of his traffic is from mobile sources, Zussino has shifted the focus of his firm to deliver  money-saving tips to grocery shoppers using iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 7 devices. To develop a Web service compatible with all those platforms, he uses PhoneGap, an open source framework that allows him to code in HTML and Javascript in a way that is compatible with the application programming interfaces (APIs) offered by multiple mobile platforms.

“Using some of the more advanced Javascript languages, you can do much more than you used to be able to,” he says. “It’s a write once, use anywhere system.”

Adobe acquired PhoneGap creator Nitobi last October. After buying the Vancouver-based firm, Adobe said it complemented AIR and its other developer solutions.

But Flash hasn’t entirely dimmed out of the developer scence, Green says. A firm is in the interactive space, there may be some areas that HTML5 just doesn’t cut it yet. Plus, there will be a lot of work in recoding all your content.

“You’ll have to take a look at the cost of doing it,” he says. “If you’re primarily looking at a desktop solution, then Flash still works, so why are you moving off it?”

Flash also has found some legs as a browser-based gaming platform, he adds. The Stage3D APIs made available by Adobe are capable of rendering HD-quality 3D video games over the Web.

But for information-delivering apps like Zussino’s Grocery Alerts, Flash was dead long ago – and its epitaph was written by Steve Jobs.

Brian JacksonBrian Jackson is the Editor at ITBusiness.ca. E-mail him at bjackson@itbusiness.ca, follow him on Twitter, connect on , read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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