Sunday, 20 January 2013

Flash Player, HTML 5, Apple and Web Standards

It has been running in my head for a while now, the issue has certainly been covered by thousands of blogs and news articles, but it still grates a bit for me from two perspectives - firstly as someone who develops using the Flash environment and secondly as a media lecturer.

Flash player is essentially dead on the mobile web, less so on the desktop based version - and I appreciate using the AIR environment to create 'native' applications, which is proving to be great - although there are always going to be things that can't be achieved with it in comparison to developing say for instance in Java or X-Code.

The problem is in killing it off (Flash Player not Flash itself) there are likely to be millions of resources which are inaccessible, it was never great for building websites unless there was a need for it - and for me there can be a need to create highly interactive and animated web content, Nikon's Universcale is one example for instance of many wonderful resources out there that should be part of the internet for ever - as an archive of 'that which once was' even if there has been a shift away from the platform that supports it.

I understand the perspective of Steve Jobs and Apple back in 2010, when he defended the decision to not support Flash for not wanting third party software to detract from the experience of using their device; the reasoning of being able to control the OS and the development environment is an honourable one in some respects but was also a bit flawed - especially when it came to supporting standards (written or unwritten). They were keen on the use of HTML 5 as a standard, the standard of the web, forgetting the rule of 'backwards compatibility', HTML is essentially backwards compatible I suppose but the web wouldn't be if devices didn't continue to support something which had become a standard.

At that time Flash was a standard, a platform used throughout the web to display video whether that be FLV or MP4, the environment itself considering video standards of the web at the time; there were also masses of on-line games out there and everything between. Businesses had built themselves on that platform, on that standard and I am sure they felt like they had had the rug pulled from under them as the saturation of mobile devices took hold; no longer a consideration they are now the market - I personally feel that consumer devices such as tablets and smart phones will be the main target of development from now on out; who needs a computer these days unless you are aiming to work with high-end digital graphics, 3D modelling, programming or anything else truly reliant on hardware (which Apple built its business on).

I am a fan of HTML 5 and very excited about the developments in CSS, to continue to strive to achieve a web standard - which can't be considered as such until it is adopted; in this regard Apple were really similar to Microsoft with Internet Explorer only supporting what they considered to be standards back then. I like HTML 5, inherently due to the fact that I like clean code and the mark-up is getting cleaner and semantically well-formed; at this point it has left behind its origins, no longer Berners-Lee's baby it has evolved and for lack of a better expression Web 2.0 has truly come to pass - I say that with gritted teeth  that expression has consistently grated with me - market-speak.

So back to the point, Apple did not consider the needs of the audience when developing the platform; which was to use the web as it existed at that point in time - not how Apple foretold it. The needs included Flash Player which was a standard because people were using it, in their millions consciously or otherwise - industries were using it, developers were using it and end-users were using it!

This might all be irrelevant now, the end has essentially passed and we are moving out into the unknown, but there will be a lot of content out there that will simply fade away as a consequence of the decision and let's face it Apple made that decision for its own purposes, not for the needs of its audience - and there is no shame in that, they are a business and it suited them and removed something that would have been difficult to control.

I am not one for reinventing the wheel, there are a lot of good things out there that do a job and do it well; Flash is one of them, it has come along way from its infancy as an animation package with some very basic interaction to a full development environment which has a standards based language, ActionScript 3.0 is a solid language for me (I suppose that potentially I will have to shelve at some point in the future, there are other languages and it is only one of  a few I work in). In 2010 it was reaching this maturity, AIR was certainly around but not supported as much as the web based Flash Player.

I could go on - Google Maps, great platform - who in their right mind would take it on?

So, there we go really. Flash allowed developers to target multiple platforms, which for them streamlined the workflow; and now Flash Player is dead and what has changed?
There are still millions of games on-line, any of those wishing to continue will produce native versions of themselves for mobile platforms I expect and there are still developers working in Flash producing AIR base Applications for Android, iOS and also for Flash Player (for those who still have it).

Flash is dead! Long live Flash!?

So, who are the losers? Well, no-one ever really loses if they are not conscious of the fact that they are missing anything, as is the case with potentially 99% of iOS users. But those holding the iPhone, iPod or iPad in their hands as they read this are missing out on the rest of the web, but because of the decision so now are Android devices, missing out on a vast range of games and applications which are part of the history of the web - and should continue to be so, instead of erased from the collective human memory.

So that is it, I think I am now going to go and play on Miniclip.

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