Thoughts on Flash* / by Simon Abrams

David Evans in an article on AdAge, once again heralding the demise of Flash:

In short, the "Flashpocalypse" is coming, and it's up to you to decide what your agency is going to do about it.

Sound familiar? This time, though, there might be something to it. Starting in September, Chrome will be the third of the Big Three browsers to idle Flash content by default on load, meaning Flash ads will be paused until the user voluntarily clicks to play them (hah!).

As one who (mostly) still keeps the lights on by creating new things with Flash, I have a couple of thoughts.

Firstly, this was only a matter of time - nobody's really shocked by this, although I think we in the advertising industry have become, as the article says, very comfortable with Flash. People have been proclaiming that Flash is "sunsetting" for years. Fine, we've all accepted that premise, and yet – during those intervening years, I’ve been an interactive/Flash developer at two premiere New York ad agencies with scores of blue-chip clients on their rosters, and I've only worked on one HTML5 banner campaign. I guess media teams just aren't buying it for desktop campaigns? Maybe that's where the education needs to be happening. Even for mobile, the default has been to deliver static images, rather than even the most basic HTML5 animation.

Say what you will about Flash, it does have the advantage of being well-known by a pretty solid number of devs, and we’ve learned to accomplish an awful lot within those absurdly archaic 40k file size specs. On the other hand, the author is right: to this day, I still can't get a straight answer as to what the file size spec is for an HTML5 banner, and you simply can’t replicate the kind of rich animation and interactivity that Flash is capable of in HTML5 in less than 100k (the latest version of jQuery alone is almost 30k, and that’s minified and gzipped).

And then there's QA. There’s no question that we have been spoiled with the ubiquity and predictability of the Flash plugin. Usually, the QA process for most standard banners is to check file size, check that it doesn't exceed the :15s animation limit, and make sure it clicks through to something. HTML5 ads bring with them all the complexity of cross-browser/cross-platform compatibility testing. Also, most of the exacting creatives I know aren't going to be satisfied with what you can get out of the existing ad building platforms (fade in, fade out, slide in, slide out...), so roll-your-own is pretty much the only real option, which means extensive QA time.

It might not sound like it, but having said all that, I'm glad this is happening. It'll force me to get deeper into the vagaries of HTML/JS/CSS, which is a good thing. And, there's really no need to shed a tear for Adobe and the Flash platform either - after all, the Flash plugin might be on its way out, but Flash Professional is still a perfectly viable prototyping tool, able to publish JavaScript animations using CreateJS, export animations as sprite sheets, produce WebGL content, and much, much more.

In short... Flash is dead. Long live Flash.

*With respect to Steve Jobs