What it is: Adobe Flash is an animation tool often used to create animated banner ads for web sites but also used to create interactive web pages such as online games.
Anyone remember when Steve Jobs banned Flash from the iPhone and the whole world got into an uproar about how Apple was abandoning a web standard that everyone had come to rely on? If you don’t remember this so-called crisis, you’re in good company with all the anti-Apple critics who used the lack of Flash support on the iPhone as proof that Android was superior. (Ask these people what they think of Flash now and you’ll hear a defining silence.)
Initially when Steve Jobs banned Flash from the iPhone, many critics failed to first identify the reason. Instead, they launched into gleeful attacks to prove why people shouldn’t buy Apple products. Yet the facts were clear to anyone who wanted to look at them. The fact that many critics failed to look at the facts is simply proof that many people fail to look at anything objectively when the facts are laid out right in front of their faces. Instead, most people prefer to ignore facts that contradict their way of thinking and read only facts that support their beliefs. This is a certain recipe for failure, yet it’s a recipe far too many people embrace time and time again.
The main reason Steve Jobs banned Flash from the iPhone was because early versions of Flash didn’t support touch screens. That meant anyone viewing a Flash web site through the iPhone couldn’t interact with it. People would immediately blame Apple for this problem when it was really Adobe’s fault.
When Adobe fixed Flash to allow touch screen support, a more serious problem lay with Flash performance. Flash had been developed in the age of desktop computers with constant power. That means Flash could rely on every computer not worried about running out of power. Flash works by constantly relying on the processor to create animation. On a desktop computer, this works fine, but on a laptop and on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, constantly running animation by making the processor work means burning up power, and that means burning up battery power in mobile devices. Flash simply churned up power to work, shortening any mobile device’s battery life in the process. That’s assuming that Flash would even work properly on touch screen interfaces, which was still spotty.
So given Flash’s spotty support of touch screen interfaces and power-consuming processing that shortened battery life for no good reason, even Adobe abandoned Flash for mobile devices eventually. The problem was simply that Flash was built for an era of desktop PCs and not for the new world of mobile computing where conserving power is crucial and touch screen interfaces dominate. That’s why even Adobe has shifted their efforts away from Flash on mobile devices and relying on HTML5 instead.
Flash still lingers as an animation tool, but it’s no longer the primary animation tool since the world has shifted towards mobile computing with smartphones, tablets, and now wearables. Flash will likely continue lingering much like CompuServe and WordPerfect still linger, but are no longer dominant players in their market.
The lesson of Flash is clear. Life changes. As long as you change with the times, you’ll have to drop older technology and embrace newer technology. Failing to change with the times means clinging to technology that gradually loses relevance with each passing day. Eventually you’ll need to switch technology if you want to stay relevant, so you might as well do it sooner rather than later.
Apple’s willingness to abandon older technology simply highlights their quest to embrace the future even at the short-term expense of ignoring current standards. At one time, every computer came with a floppy disk even though few people used them. The iMac was one of the first computers to abandon the floppy disk drive, which led other computer manufacturers to do the same.
At one time, every computer came with a CD/DVD drive. Once again, the Macintosh dropped that since many people listen to music or watch movies through digital files. Dropping the CD/DVD drive saves space and weight, which allows Apple to create thinner and lighter laptops.
The latest MacBook even drops common ports in favor of a single USB-C port. For some people, the lack of support for older ports will stop them from getting a MacBook, but you can already see the future. As USB-C ports become standard, older ports will no longer be necessary. Anyone remember the days of RS-232 serial ports and parallel ports in the back of every laptop? The MacBook is simply leading the way towards a future of wireless computing and support for the new USB-C port standard. The rest of the world will eventually catch up.
It’s not always easy dropping existing technology in favor of newer technology, but it’s inevitable. You can change now or later, but the answer is never to change at all. If you do, you might as well cling to CP/M-80 and claim this is the only operating system you ever need for all your computer problems. Obviously this is ridiculous just as much as people claiming Flash was vital, floppy disk rives were crucial, CD/DVD drives were necessary, or that multiple ports are important. Changing technology may not be fun, but as long as the newer technology offers advantages that the older technology can’t offer, it’s a trade off we’ll have to keep making time after time whether we like it or not.