In my previous post (“Why I haven’t installed a Flash player“), I tried to convince people why supporting Adobe Flash by installing a player was a bad idea. My hope was that efforts like mine would reduce the number of sites using Flash and eventually eliminate non-standard technologies like Flash from the web. Recent events made me realize why such efforts to get rid of Flash will pale in comparison to the natural phenomena that are already working together to seal Flash’s fate.
The demise of Flash will not come from any one place. Rather, a combination of factors will culminate in a perfect storm that will end Flash’s dominance. Here are the factors:
Those who have been following Flash and its widespread adoption may be surprised by my prediction. After all, Flash currently “reaches 99.0% of Internet viewers”, according to Adobe. As a developer, this should mean that virtually anyone who can access the Internet can access my website designed with Flash, right?
Carefully analyzing Adobe’s statistics shows this is not the case. By “Internet viewers”, Adobe actually means “Internet-enabled desktops”. As we are seeing, there are more and more devices that can access the Internet which are not “Internet-enabled desktops”. Anyone using an Apple iPhone, T-Mobile G1, BlackBerry Storm, or (soon) Palm Pre can access the Internet, but they are not considered in Adobe’s stats because those devices are not “Internet-enabled desktops”. However, with iPhone sales alone surpassing 13 million units, this segment of Internet-enabled cell phones represents a large percentage of total Internet users, which will only grow larger as Internet-enabled cell phones and data plans drop in price.
Can’t Adobe just add support to the phones? Not easily. Most cell phone makers will only add software to their phones if it passes a certainly quality threshold and Flash often doesn’t meet that threshold by performing too slowly or by missing features. Since Flash is closed to outside developers, cell phone makers can’t fix Flash to make it work better so they can’t include it with their phones.
In addition to the plummeting percentage of machines on which Flash is installed, the need to use Flash for providing video is diminishing. HTML5 includes native support for video, which allows web sites to easily provide video to their users without Flash. Firefox 3.1 will support HTML5 video and Safari already supports it in version 3.1.
The demise of Flash should be a reminder to everyone who depends on proprietary technologies. These technologies will eventually fade into the distance as standards overtake them in ubiquity and usefulness. We have learned this time and again with the decline of technologies like RealVideo and the Solero Music Viewer. Some proprietary technologies (such as Windows) will last longer than others, but for every field a time will come when only standards remain. The question for software developers is: Will you be stuck on the proprietary technology when it fails or will you already be writing to standards?