Apple's well-publicized refusal to allow Adobe's Flash technology to be installed on its iOS mobile devices, including the iPhone and iPad, has led to speculation that Flash's days may be numbered as the king of online multimedia delivery. "Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of Web content," Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously stated in an open letter titled "Thoughts on Flash."
Jobs and others have championed HTML 5 as a better format for delivering video, animation and additional media-rich interactivity to the Web. One reason some folks have been talking up HTML 5 is that it's open source while Flash is proprietary. And HTML 5 enables users to play video right in a Web browser instead of requiring a plug-in, as Flash does. But predicting Flash's demise is short-sighted, say industry analysts.
"There are many people who despise Flash, but I'm not sure they'd love the alternative right out of the gate. The open-source world has not blown everyone out of the water with their video work thus far," says Michael Cote, an analyst at RedMonk. "Adobe has spent a lot of time optimizing Flash, and I'd wager it'd take some time to get HTML 5 video as awesome."
Here are six factors that give Flash a strong position over HTML 5 and other alternative Web media technologies in the foreseeable future.
1. The iPhone and iPad notwithstanding, Flash is beginning to show up on other mobile device platforms.
Although Apple has taken a strong stance against the use of Flash on its iPhone/iPad platform, Google's Android 2.2 operating system supports Flash. Although currently available on only a few devices, Android 2.2 will make its way to several smartphones over the next few months.
Adobe has also won promises of future support for Flash from several makers of mobile operating systems, including Microsoft and Palm/HP. Research In Motion has also announced that work is underway to support Flash on BlackBerry devices, although the company didn't provide a specific date for introducing that functionality.
2. Flash is used for more than just video delivery on the Web.
When most end users think of Flash, they think of streaming Web video -- with good reason. "Flash as a video solution was popularized with the rise of YouTube, and is also used by Hulu -- the top two video sites on the Web," explains Ross Rubin, an analyst at NPD Group. But Flash is also widely used for Web animations, ads, games and other interactive elements.
"Everybody is talking about video, but what doesn't necessarily get talked about is a lot of the interactive elements," says Craig Barberich, vice president of marketing and business development at Coincident TV, a San Francisco-based company that sells what it calls a "platform-agnostic" framework that allows its clients to create video with interactive elements that can be experienced on either the iOS-based devices or devices that run Flash.
"Quite frankly, Flash is a great animation tool, and it's used for a lot of interactivity. Those kind of interactive elements are difficult to do in HTML 5," Barberich says.
3. Adobe provides strong tools and support for designers and developers.
Launched in 1996 by Macromedia Inc., Flash won early success because it was a relatively lightweight way of displaying complex graphics on the Web, especially those with animation and interactivity, at a time when broadband access wasn't common. But a key factor that led to Flash's longevity was Macromedia's nurturing and support for content developers.
Adobe, which had been building its own loyal base of content creators with design tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat, acquired Macromedia -- and Flash -- in 2005. Adobe continued Macromedia's commitment to developers with the release of the first Adobe-branded version of the Flash development software in 2007. Today Flash is bundled with other design and development tools in certain editions of Adobe's Creative Suite package.