Commentary # 46: December 2010
Previous Commentaries
back to the main page

An Auld Lang Syne for Adobe Flash

December 2010

- by Craig Wassel

If you have the tools and technical can-do, designing, building and maintaining your own photography website is great. The control and flexibility makes it possible to do almost whatever you wish with branding and functionality.

As with most things, though, there are cons to consider. Being your own webmaster is like owning a house. No matter where you look, there is something you wish was different or better. There are things that need improvement, maintenance, or repair. Sometimes the tasks are like painting a room. At other times, they are like ripping out the walls, gutting the innards, and starting over.

This Fall I began doing – metaphorically speaking – just that. I have been tearing out the walls of this site, and replacing the wiring. What is the wiring being replaced? In a word: Flash. I am removing the Adobe Flash elements one by one.

At the beginning of 2009, I completed the fifth rebuild of this site in less than four years by adding around a half-dozen Adobe Flash elements. Adding them in the first place involved a painful process of learning how to create Flash content, and a significant number of hours testing across hardware platforms and browsers. It took time – serious amounts of time.

I also wanted to implement Flash in the best known method. I was aware that too many sites use Flash with no regard for a visitor, and I wanted my visitors’ experience to be seamless and enhanced by Flash, and not hindered by it. Hindered visitors quickly move on to another site and competitor. That meant I needed to make the additional effort of utilizing the Adobe Flash Player Detection kit part of my design approach. Still, I felt the move to Flash was worth the effort. I felt Flash was a good choice for creating a semi-interactive site that was simple, elegant, and showcased my work. Sadly but not necessarily regrettably, the Flash version of this site lasted only two years.

Over those two years, I occasionally heard from visitors who could not view the Flash content. Every now and then, I would even hear from someone who said this site crashed their browser. It concerned me, but there are only so many platform/browser scenarios you can plan for and anticipate. I was fairly certain that Flash was probably somehow involved with those unsuccessful visitor experiences, but I knew I had implemented Flash with best known methods. Using Flash meant some losses.

Still as those two years went by, visitors reported problems with increasing frequency; I realized that I might have to take some serious corrective action very soon. Some of the memory and instability issues which are the known Achilles heal of Flash were taking their toll as my site got more visitors. Then the death blow for Flash arrived: the incredible success and ubiquity of the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad. Before anyone thinks I am going to bad mouth these handheld marvels, let me assure you that I am not. If you are not aware, though, Flash content is not and will never be (short of some divine intervention at Apple) viewable on Apple’s i-Devices. Steve Job’s firm, immutable stance is that Adobe Flash is a third party, closed source, memory hungry, and unstable plug-in. For those reasons, he will not allow Flash on the i-Device operating system.

It is not my intent to offer opinion on whether Jobs and Apple are right or self-righteous. In the end, it absolutely does not make one bit of difference what I think, because these three things are true:

  1. There is an explosion of web surfing being done by iPhone, iTouch, and iPad owners (my wife is one of them), and the estimate is that between 40% and 50% of handheld devices do not support Flash

  2. Some of those surfers could be potential customers who would quickly leave my site because they would not be able to view the Flash content

  3. There is no sense in playing a waiting game to see if Job’s or Apple’s stance will change. It won’t.
Even if Jobs and Apple did an about-face, the amount of work that the Flash framework and Flash sites would need to become functional would be overwhelming. Why? Because Flash content was designed for mouse and mouse-over interaction, and Apple i-devices are designed for finger interaction. The word from Adobe is that the release of Flash 10.1 will bring functionality options for handheld devices, but that won’t matter to Apple i-Device owners.

I had two choices: adapt, and keep my visitor/customer experience as my top priority, or ignore the obvious trend and continue to frustrate (or even lose) more and more potential customers. The choice was easy to make, but tedious and time consuming to execute: element by element, I began removing Flash from this site altogether. I know there are other options, like creating alternate, non-Flash content that is called when my site detects that the visitor is using an iPhone or the like. Why, though, create and manage two versions of site content, instead of creating and managing one version of content that works across platforms and browsers? I felt the best route for me at present was to go with languages I know run on anything: HTML 4 and java script.

Flash Player’s issues and future are particularly important to photographers’ sites. Flash is probably the most popular and widely used plug-in and method to smoothly and professionally display polished portfolios and galleries. If your site uses Flash, it’s a really good idea to immediately check what the visitor experience is like for iTouch, iPhone, and iPad owners. You are in luck if your site is on Zenfolio; it provides built in browser detection that serves up alternate content to non-Flash capable browsers, and that alternate content sure looks to me to be java script driven. Again, though: if gallery content can be delivered the same to all browsers by one method, why invest the time and effort to deliver Flash content to some browsers, and script and deliver alternate content to non-Flash browers?

For me – a photographer who built his site from scratch and maintains it, the overhead and issues of using Flash became too great. Maybe Flash will evolve into something new that is more stable, less memory and battery hungry, and friendly to finger driven interfaces, or maybe HTML5 will win out, standardize, and become the best tool for delivering interactive media. Maybe some visionary will develop a revolutionary platform that answers the need and does everything better.

For me and for now, though - as this year draws to a close and we ring in a new one - I am singing an Auld Lange Syne to Adobe Flash and going back to basics. I have just one more large section to re-model. This site won’t look as fancy and Flashy, but at least I know iPhone, iTouch, and iPad users will be able to see my content and portfolio.

". . . Seeing simply is seeing significantly. . . ."

~ Jack Wilkinson ~

To Subscribe to These Commentaries, Click Below:


" . . . Some of the memory and instability issues which are the known Achilles heal of Flash were taking their toll as my site got more visitors. Then the death blow for Flash arrived: the incredible success and ubiquity of the iPhone, iTouch, and iPad . . . Flash content is not and will never be (short of some divine intervention at Apple) viewable on Apple’s i-Devices . . . "

© All content Copyright 1978-2012 Craig Wassel Photography ©