Flash on smartphones

I had a great chuckle in this article linked from Daring Fireball about 10 reasons why the Droid Bionic will score over the iPhone 5, and one of the reasons being the support of Flash (emphasis mine):

This is a big advantage an Android systems holds against iPhone. Flash enriches Web experience. Any Flash player has to be able to animate on top of video renderings, which makes hardware accelerated video rendering at least not as straightforward as with a purpose-built multimedia player. Therefore, even when only displaying video, Flash players are more resource-intensive than a dedicated video player software. Presently for Apple, only Mac OS 9/X supports Flash. As Droid Bionic comes with the Android OS, it enjoys the full support of flash.

Two things here:

  1. Flash degrades, not enriches the web experience
  2. No one enjoys the full support of Flash

I had Flash on my Droid for about a month before I uninstalled it. I had forgotten how much Flash degrades the browsing experience, and I don’t really want my phone battery life to go down because of Flash being more resource-intensive.

Who are these people that actually care about Flash on a phone? It’s just baffling to me.

I really do feel bad for Flash developers, as at least Silverlight-specialized developers will have the .NET Framework to fall back on.

About Jimmy Bogard

I'm a technical architect with Headspring in Austin, TX. I focus on DDD, distributed systems, and any other acronym-centric design/architecture/methodology. I created AutoMapper and am a co-author of the ASP.NET MVC in Action books.
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  • Drikdiggler

    > Who are these people that actually care about Flash on a phone?


  • i agree that flash is a bad idea, but you can’t deny that a large (enough) percentage of content on the web is in flash and to be unable to view that content on your phone – even in a pinch – is quite limiting. i use dolphin browser hd for most of my browsing and it implements flash very elegantly. no flash loads by default, but you can click on the outline of the flash region and choose to load it if you want. no performance degradation, and complete flexibility and freedom to do whatever you want with your phone. i don’t see how that’s bad.

  • Foo
  • Johnhilts

    > I really do feel bad for Flash developers, as at least Silverlight-specialized developers will have the .NET Framework to fall back on.

    I think if a Flash dev knows ActionScript enough they might be able to fall back on Flex / Air …

    • Luke Winikates

      Yeah, I was gonna say– I’ve been really struck by how many desktop apps I’ve downloaded lately ended up being Air apps– Balsamiq, Yammer, the Amazon Cloud Drive mp3 uploader. Interesting space that it’s filling.

  • I dunno, I think iPhone people make a big deal out of it because they can’t have it :)

    I don’t do a lot of flash stuff on my Android, but it is nice if there’s an embedded video or something on a page to be able to see it and not have to wait until I get back to my PC.

  • Jason Yandell

    OK now Jimmy, slow down a tick.

    I’m a big fan of yours and long time reader.  Nothing has changed about that.  On this point, though, I encourage you to re-think your conclusion.

    Granted that the majority of in-your-face Flash sites degrade the browsing experience.  It was the developers and designers that created those poorly performing ads and bloated sites who are to blame, not the tool.  The tool itself is instrumental in enhancing the browsing experience for everyone.

    Until HTML5 is pervasively supported, Flash-based polyfills play such a vital role in enhancing the browser experience, particularly in constrained environments like smartphones, that I firmly believe we would HAVE no real HTML5 support in nearly any browser today without it.

    - Adoption of HTML5 without polyfills over the last couple of years would remain nearly untenable until ALL browsers supported it completely.  Such is the role of Flash in the hands of well-behaved Flash developers.

    - Much of the clamor for HTML5 support in browsers is driven by designers and developers seeing others doing wonderful things with it that are not possible cross-browser without Flash.  So the web experience is not only be enhanced by Flash today, it will be even more greatly even enhanced SOONER than it would be otherwise without Flash there to demonstrate to the world what HTML5 might be like one day.

    Finally, I wouldn’t feel too bad for Flash developers.  Modern Flash development incorporates IoC, unit testing, etc.  Those skills transfer.  If a group should be pitied, it is the single-platform developers, as all who choose that path will face hard times eventually.   This has been the case throughout the history of development and there’s no reason to think that is changing any time soon.

    • Jason,

      Sorry, but the average mobile device user just doesn’t care about Flash.  If they did, more than 20,000 Galaxy tabs and 25,000 TouchPads would have sold.  The iPhone 4, a month before the 5 is due to come out, is also the number one phone in the world by far for sales.  True, you can sum up all the 250+ different Android phones in the US and they beat the iPhone, but most of those don’t run Flash either.

      It doesn’t really matter if Flash somehow lead to HTML5, the reality is, the people have spoken, and they don’t care about Flash.

      • Jason Yandell

        You do have a point and it may well be true that the people don’t care about Flash but we can’t draw that conclusion from what you wrote.

        I don’t think people go to the store to pick a phone and base that on whether it has some obscure rendering technology in it, nor do they (or I) consider the historical implications when selecting a phone.

        Still, I continue to assert that it enriches the browsing experience, when used properly. 

        When misused, yes, it sucks.  I would even support severe limitations on what Flash is allowed to do without user interaction.

        • Maybe.  Considering the main selling point to the general public has been that Android has Flash, and that they are pushing it as the differentiation, the fact that people aren’t using it has to mean something, right? 

          Web browsing numbers for mobile devices are interesting too, for most sites that actually report it, “Android” numbers are very low.  So for all the phones out there, Android devices makes for a very small percent of the actual mobile web traffic.  Of course, this could be for a variety of reasons.

  • Flash video support is about the only reason you would want Flash on an iOS device. Well, except maybe to browse a site determined to be written in Flash, but those won’t be around for long. And it sounds like Flash Video will soon work on iOS devices now anyway, which is nice. HTML5 really does not do a very good job of supporting streaming video. By that I mean live video streams that is, not watching content streaming from a server. One day that will work better and then you won’t need flash video at all…