Final Thoughts on Flash

By Richard Stephenson, CEO at YUDU Ltd

On the 31st of December 2020 Adobe Flash reaches the end of its life after a history dating back to 1993.

When Adobe bought Macromedia in 2005, Flash Player was installed on more computers worldwide than any other web media format, and we naturally adopted this technology as the foundation of the YUDU platform in 2007. What could possibly go wrong?

The macro answer lies in the growth of the smartphone and the appetite for video. 

Steve Jobs is often attributed to the demise of Flash when he set out his view in his famous letter, “Thoughts on Flash” in 2010. He had three reasons why he did not adopt Flash on the iPad. Firstly it was a “CPU hog” essentially consuming a huge amount of processing power, particularly for video. Secondly, it was full of security flaws and thirdly he regarded it an “old technology.” At the time it was often labelled as a spat between Adobe’s CEO Shantanu Narayen and Jobs rather than a technical issue and it was true they did not get on. Jobs formed the view that he could not trust Adobe as a partner to be able or willing to fix the deep-seated security issues.

From our perspective, Flash was technically excellent on desktops but with Flash banned from the iPad we developed a native app solution to deliver our client’s content and launched with Readers Digest as the first brand shortly after the iPad launched.

The real technical problems with Flash revealed themselves when we worked with the Android providers who were trying to get Flash to work. It soon became clear that Job’s view was right all along and the experience, particularly with video was awful. With smaller CPU’s compared to desktops, the mobile devices simply could not cope with power-hungry Flash.

Although security vulnerabilities were legion hackers were never able to penetrate our platform and our clients continued to be happy consumers of digital catalogues, magazines and multimedia documents.

But with so many machines installed with Flash worldwide, the hacking world was drawn to Flash like moths to a lamp and the costs to Adobe of supporting and patching Flash was beginning to mount.

Some take the view that with enough investment and the support of Apple, Flash could have made the transition to mobile but I doubt that. Like almost all technologies they get eventually get replaced by a new entrant and Flash is no exception.

What we do know is that Steve Jobs was taking a gamble betting on HTML5 at a time when the standard was in its infancy and few browsers were compatible. It was the huge success of the iPad and iPhone that gave impetus to HTML5 and the browsers quickly caught up. We stared at this scene in 2015 and whilst we had great native app solutions for iOS, Android and Windows we knew that the massive growth in larger format phones was going to demand browser-based delivery to mobile. Jobs, by the way, saw most things none of us predicted but he never believed large format-phones would take off.

Flash was wonderful on desktops and even though the security flaws never penetrated our platform we had to rip things up, start again and develop a shiny new HTML reader which we launched in 2016.

It was probably written in the runes back in 2008 when Apple first tested Flash on the iPhone that it would be killed off. It has taken 10 years since that letter from Steve Jobs but finally, we can say Flash is dead, but we should reflect that at its zenith in 2005 it really dominated the competition.

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