TV-BAY Magazine Issue 66 June 2012
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So you think you know Flash? by David Springall I t is becoming widely accepted that HTML5 will eventually replace Flash as the platform for rich content and video on connected devices, but how can video publishers make the leap and avoid the pitfalls?  David Springall, Yospace Back in the early nineties, when what few websites existed were almost completely static, a company called FutureWave Software developed some simple cell animation software. It could be authored on PC or Mac, and delivered in a runtime form that would play on any platform. Early users of the software included Microsoft for the first version of MSN and Disney Online for its subscription service Disney’s Daily Blast. The founders tried to sell their business to Adobe Systems in 1995, but they were turned down. A year later Macromedia acquired FutureWave and its product, then called FutureSplash Animator. It contracted FutureSplash to Flash and what became a de facto web standard was born. In 2005, Adobe acquired Macromedia and the chain was completed. The history is important because we need to remember that Flash is 20 years old: an unimaginably long life in internet terms. It was originated to provide animation and interactivity in the days when it was really hard to do. Because of this it spread like 68 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE wildfire, and so other functionality was added to it, which stretched its capabilities greatly. Video support was added with the advent of Flash version 6 in 2002. Again this was a big step forward, as Flash is a cross-platform player so video could be delivered in one format. The alternative was to make a determination based on kind of browser on which operating system, and then embed a Windows Media player, QuickTime player or RealPlayer as appropriate and then deliver the compatible media format – harder work for coders and something that never really produced a great user experience either. But inevitably the process of adding more functionality to a long-established format brought problems. Today there is widespread criticism that the proprietary nature of Flash is stifling innovation. The issue came to a head with the new era of smartphones and, most important, tablets. The iPad is a terrific device on which to watch video, yet Apple has refused from day one to allow Flash to run on it. In a famous open letter written in April 2010 – just a few weeks after the launch of the original iPad – Apple’s Steve Jobs wrote “Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short. “The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content. And the 250,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games. “New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticising Apple for leaving the past behind.” Fighting talk and it caused great controversy. But Jobs could have pointed to the fact that Adobe had at that time failed to deliver a successfully working mobile version of Flash: it was not just the iPhone and iPad which could not play Flash content. Perhaps bowing to the inevitable, in November 2011 Adobe revealed