Computers, x-ed out screen

And then it was gone…

Step back in time with me to the ancient days of 2007. The iPhone had just been released and it ushered in the era of truly accessing websites from mobile devices. Before the iPhone, visiting a website from a mobile phone was a painful and very limited experience. It, pardon my French, sucked.

Then along came the iPhone with a real web browser and you could visit real websites. Except the iPhone didn’t do Flash.

Flash, from Adobe, is the tool that brought powerful (and often visually stunning) animations and video to websites. Around 2007, it was the way to make a website really drool-worthy and some predicted that it would soon rule the world of web design.

A friend started into web development around that time and dove head first into the Flash universe. I have to admit, he created some really cool things.

But if you went to one of those Flash websites from your new iPhone, you didn’t see all that goodness. Just a big, fat error message. Steve Jobs at Apple held no promise that Flash in any form would come to the iPhone. His reasoning was simple: Flash is a resource hog and drains batteries faster than you can down a 64oz Slurpee®.

Other phone makers experimented with the mobile Flash that Adobe came up with. They claimed to have it working, but those who used it were not impressed.

Then as so often happens in life, time moved on. New web standards came along and in 2011 Adobe announced that they were ending development of mobile Flash.

I wrote on my blog back then:

“In a world where websites are accessed not only from desktop computers connected to a fast network, but increasingly from mobile devices, it makes sense to create a website such that it displays well on the largest number of devices. Obviously Adobe is finally admitting that the user experience of Flash is not going to be optimal in the reasonable future and so they are pulling back. That has to raise the question if this pull back is the beginning of the end for Flash.”

Turns out it was indeed the beginning of the end.

It’s now 2017 and on all the websites I’ve designed and developed, there has never been a need to use Flash. Video, yes. Animation, sure. Just not powered by Flash.

And my prediction that it makes sense to develop websites that display well on the largest number of devices is the foundational principle behind the concepts of “mobile first” web development and responsive websites.

(Mobile first means that the website is designed for the smallest screen first and then you work your way up, until the site looks awesome on all screen sizes. Responsive websites automatically change how their content is presented to fit the device the site is viewed on.)

What makes all this of interest today is that Adobe just announced that they will end support for Flash in 2020, a mere 3 years from now.

For many of us, that day can’t come too soon. Along with being a resource hog, Flash has also been a black hole of security, requiring endless patches and updates to stay reasonably secure. For that reason, I keep it turned off on my computers, unless I really need to use it to access content on a particular website.

I’m just looking forward to a world without Flash. One thing we’ve learned in web design with the rise of mobile browsing (60%+ of all web browsing is from mobile devices now) is that good content, delivered well to meet the visitor’s needs, beats lots of moving thingies and effects that would dazzle even the proverbial unicorn. Because all that shiny, jingling, jangling razzlement does is keep you from taking action on the website!

Adobe itself doesn’t seem to cry over the spilled milk. They’re happily and busily providing tools (and good ones at that) to help us make use of all the capabilities of open web standards that are replacing the need for Flash.

Sometimes its nice when your predictions come true. It’s looking to be a good day out there in web land.

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