to flash or not to flash

To Flash or Not to Flash

Adobe Flash Player has been around for over a decade and has become the unofficial standard medium for delivering animation and streaming video.

Many individuals have challenged its effectiveness, but no challenges have been taken as seriously as Apple’s. Steve Jobs has made it clear that Apple has no intentions of running Flash on their iPhone or iPad.

As we enter into the second decade of 21st Century web design, one cannot help but ask the question: Is Flash still needed?  Should web designers use Flash, and to what extent?

First, we should look at the common ways in which Flash is used:

  1. Animation – Zooming, fading, flashing, flipping, and pretty much any imaginable type of animation can be accomplished with Flash.
  2. Banners and/or navigation – Some sites use animated banners or logos.  Many of them may even animate their navigation bars with Flash.
  3. Entire site design – There are still sites that are entirely Flash-based.  Movie websites, model and actor sites, and commercial product promotion sites sometimes use nothing but Flash.
  4. Video streaming – YouTube and nearly every other video sharing site uses Flash.  Furthermore, Hulu and major network television sites use it as well.

Is Flash still needed?

  1. For basic animation, such as fading images, Javascript should be preferred. Flash requires an external plugin and will only slow the site down unnecessarily.In the future, technologies like SVG might make animation completely standards-based.Until then some Flash might still be useful, although websites should use animation sparingly when it is part of the actual site design.
  2. It was never a good idea to have banners or navigation made in Flash, and web designers should avoid this practice completely.Imagine someone viewing your site on an iPad or even a desktop that purposely has Flash disabled.Instead of your logo, they see a big blank spot.  Instead of buttons to navigate through your site, they see nothing.
  3. Like banners and navigation, making an entire site of Flash is bad for accessibility and usability.
  4. Video streaming is the one area where Flash is most prominent and will probably stick around for some time to come. Google intends to replace their Flash video on YouTube with their new WebM video format, and Apple wants the Web world to use the H.264 codec.  Until that is all sorted out, websites will continue to stream with Flash video.

The answer to the question is “Yes“, Flash is still needed for animated presentations and video streaming. For all other uses, it is time for web designers to move on to something more usable and efficient.