Is Adobe Flash again relevant? - Factor 3

Is Adobe Flash again relevant?

Adobe Flash has been the subject of scorn for many, many years. It started with ‘creatively indulgent’ websites that only made sense in their own context. Navigation was generally the main bugbear, in that rather than seeing a series of sections and subsections in a vertical or horizontal menu, people started using fields and flowers, offices and office equipment, cosmoses and planets… the metaphors got more and more bizarre and the navigation ever more confusing. The loading times kept creeping up and the rewards for waiting felt more and more irrelevant. People got turned off, and developers changed course.

At the same time, other facets of digital marketing became increasingly important. For one, although optimising a flash site for search engine visibility was feasible, it increased production times and costs to such an extent that it wasn’t a feasible option for your average SME. There was also the issue of statistics – it was very difficult to track how people were interacting with a flash site. As these things grew in significance, Flash continued to fall further out of favour. Several more years passed and Steve Jobs decided that Flash had no place in modern computing, and no support was included in iPhone and iPad devices.

Yet at the same time…

Ironically over the last few years, designers, developers and clients decided that some interactivity was desirable, and in some cases even necessary in order to enrich user experiences. Whether it be as subtle as a slick mouse-over, or as noticeable as a fully interactive page, jQuery and Javascript were becoming ever more prevalent and this continues to be the case. The latest addition to this arsenal is HTML5, which is quickly becoming the de-facto mark-up language.

There’s a real irony in the fact that the worm has been slowly turning; the web has again been becoming interactive, not just interconnected… and all of this has happened with Flash declared an off-the-table option.

So what has changed?

Well, quite a lot. Let’s start with the obvious point… you could be viewing a flash-designed website these days and you would have absolutely no idea. This has been possible for only a matter of months and is because when you render your Flash file now, you aren’t necessarily creating a swf. You see, since CS5.5, Flash files can now be rendered out in native HTML5 format.

The implications of this are truly staggering and very exciting. It means compatibility across all devices including any iWotsit. It also means that interactions with pages and buttons are tracked in exactly the same way as any other site on the web. It also means that search engines can spider pages and page content with complete ease, with no need to create a ‘fake’ website behind it purely for Google. On top of this, flash elements no longer need to be confined to a box on the page – Flash-created elements could be coded into CSS styles, for example.

In recent years, the majority of animated page elements have been hand-coded. This is all well and good, but results can be stifled by code limitations and ultimately, it remains a more time consuming process than tweening frames on a timeline. I have no doubt that the jQuery/Javascript trends will continue, but the latest incarnation from Adobe again makes Flash a feasible, and desirable production option.

The great thing is that you can create a page element in Flash – an animated background for example, and code the rest of the website in the same way you are accustomed too. Flash HTML 5 elements have the potential to be as common as jpeg graphics or PNG files in the way they’re implemented in pages. And the best bit? Nobody ever needs to know that these elements have been developed in Flash. If necessary, Flash can be a designer’s dirty little secret!

Could we see old issues being recycled?

Let’s not forget – the beginning of Flash’s decline was creative excess. The reason why interactive sites have again become commonplace is because each interactive element has purpose. Interactive pages aren’t that way purely because ‘it’s cool’ – the interactivity adds simplicity to the user experience that couldn’t be achieved any other way. The moment things move on-screen because it’s funky and not because it’s useful, we will again find ourselves at the top of a slippery slope.

If the tone of this post hasn’t made it obvious, I’m very excited about the possibilities that have opened up due to Adobe’s latest innovations. It is up to us, the development community to ensure it continues to have a place, and doesn’t fall out of favour again.

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