Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Flash is NOT Dead - communicating to lay people

So, there is lots of chatter around Adobe's announcement today, that I want to add my 2 cents on. I happen to be teaching a class on Flash tonight, so I thought about how to explain this announcement to my class.

While I agree with Adobe's decision (somewhat), I think they royally screwed up their communication of their message.

They've spent years training people to recognize the Flash brand, and failed to realize that most people can't distinguish all of the pieces that make up that brand. Nobody outside of the community knows that there is even a Flash Pro, Flash Builder, Flash Player, AIR, Flex... it is all Flash to them. Adobe has done a good job in that regard. So today's message that says Flash {insert ANY other words here} is not going to be supported, gets interpreted as the entire brand is not going to be supported.

Here is a snippet of their message:

We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.) following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook.

And here is what the world read:

 We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player

That is akin to reading a hypothetical message that says:
"Continental Airlines will close its Houston hub" as
"Continental will stop flying"

This is only a small piece of the whole equation. But this is what the lay person hears... and hence all of the panic today.

I came up with the non-technology analogy to explain it to my class.
(Bare with me, taking the analogy away from technology requires some leeway) :

Imagine that you are a company, called StoreYourStuffCompany, that produces magic spells (Harry Potter references to follow). Your main product is an enchantment, StuffYourStuff, that makes all of your stuff, like books, clothes, furniture, etc, fit into a given space.

Now, the enchantment has been around for a while, and actually StoreYourStuffCompany has partners including home builders, so that your home comes designed with this StuffYourStuff enchantment. Hence all of your stuff fits into your house or apartment.

Recently, people want to carry more stuff with them, and so StoreYourStuffCompany has partnered with backpack and purse manufacturers, like the following videos.

Harry Potter's Undetectable Extension Charm
and Mary Poppins Carpet Bag:

Now the problem, when you have all of your stuff in one of these bags, is that it is poor experience as Mary Poppins shows looking for her tape measure. It is difficult to get to the thing that you are looking for, and you often have to touch everything to find the thing you want.

Yet, in your house finding your stuff is a relatively good experience (assuming a base level of home organization).

So StuffYourStuff comes up with an additional enchantment, GetYourStuff, which in Harry Potter language is the summoning charm, Accio. This charm allows you to simply say what you want and it snaps to your hand if it is nearby.

The GetYourStuff is hugely successful, so much so that people don't carry the backpacks and purses, instead use StuffYourStuff to keep all of their stuff in their pockets, and GetYourStuff brings them the exact items that they need when they need it.

StoreYourStuffCompany decides to discontinue partnering with the backpack and purse makers to heavily focus on improving the GetYourStuff charm, as well as the StuffYourStuff enchantment.

Rephrased for techology this story reads like this:

StoreYourStuffCompany = Adobe
StuffYourStuff = Flash
Home / Apartment = DESKTOP browsers
Backpacks and purses  = MOBILE browsers
GetYourStuff = AIR for desktop, mobile, other

When you are on your phone, do you go to or the facebook app? or TweetDeck? or the email app?

I'm guessing you said the app. That is because the experience is better. You get the information that you need/want faster without touching everything. You go to the web to look up information that you can't get from an app. You are there to accomplish a specific task, when you are browsing on your phone, and HTML5 might be the technology that will allow you to succeed faster?  

Here are some other good insights into the matter:

My biggest fear is that for the lay people and business people who only hear that "Flash is not to be supported" / "Flash is dead", will base their financial decisions on that little and incorrect sound bite.

Adobe will need to do some serious marketing to get the right message across.


  1. "This is only a small piece of the whole equation." -- what are you smoking? the mobile web is one small part? I would sooner learn to develop in java for desktop / web/ Android and hope that someone creates a Java to Objective C conversion tool before sticking around with what is now becoming "Flash the Game development tool." Adobe needed to either get onto the iOS or help Android make iOS irrelevant in market share to win this. Giving up on Flash for the mobile web equals the end of Flash... seriously! Like we are all going to drop our corporate customers and start building AIR for iOS/Android Flash Games suddenly (as an alternative to ubiquitous Flash on the web?) Adobe lost some leadership and as a result lost their developer base on this one. I give it 6 months and Adobe will lose enough customers to be in round two of layoffs. I am already out shopping open-source alternatives for my CS5 apps.

  2. Steve, if your plan is to create Java to Objective C, then you are already planning on creating an APP - which is exactly what Adobe is targeting even reinforcing with AIR. If however, you said that your corporate clients really are looking forward to opening up the BROWSER within their mobile devices and wanting to see their rich flash content - then you'd have a solid argument. Adobe's plan is to not support the mobile BROWSER (Safari, Opera, etc), they are fully committed to supporting the cross platform ubiquity of AIR. I agree with you that they seriously hurt themselves with the way that they communicated the message, and yes probably will lose a lot of customers. That is why it is, very unfortunately, up to us, the developers, community, and people who understand the difference between flash player in the browser, flash player installed natively through AIR, and the other parts of the Flash brand - to help fix it. That is if we want to continue to use the Flash platform as a source of income for us. It sucks that we have to, but a simple statement in a routine financial blog post is clouding the ability to see why this is the right thing to do... it was just communicated poorly.

  3. I agree completely. The problem is not the decision, the problem is how they communicated it. I have several mobile devices, phones, tablets, etc. and I would much prefer an app to the mobile web. None of my clients have asked me to build mobile web applications. Everyone wants an app that can distributed via the "app" store/market/world. I am more than happy to continue to build mobile applications with Flex and distribute them via AIR. I don't think the technology choice really matters much to clients as long as they get great experience.

    However, when Adobe talks about the Flash Platform lately all the talk is either about entertainment and gaming or mobile applications. They keep avoiding any communication about web applications for desktop. This was making the dev community nervous already and this announcement makes it worse, because you start to wonder about their commitment to web-based Flash applications at all. If the plan is to do something like OpenLaszlo and compile Flex to HTML5, then they should hurry up and unveil that so we can all relax a bit.