Dispatches from the front line of the internet

RSS

You can survive without Flash. And now Adobe might have to

Apple has hired Adobe's CTO. Is this the death of Flash?

An advert taken out by Adobe in May 2010, aimed at convincing Apple to include Flash on the iPad. It failed. Photograph: Getty Images

The Chief Technology Officer of Adobe, Kevin Lynch, has been hired by Apple to be the new VP of Technology. Is is time to start celebrating the death of Flash?

In his old job, Lynch was the chief proponent of Flash, developed by Macromedia, his old employers, before the company was bought by Adobe and he earned his CTO role. And that role, as time went by, consisted more and more of attacking the most outspoken anti-Flash company in technology: Apple.

When the iPhone was launched in 2007, it was mocked for not having Flash installed. Adobe could reasonably claim that, for a "full" web experience, you needed its software. Of course, in 2007, the idea of any smartphone being able to run the incredibly poorly engineered Flash software was pretty much laughable, and although some Android phones came out the year later with a mobile version of Flash, they largely vindicated Apple's decision. When the plugin was turned on, they ran slowly, crashed frequently, and hoovered up battery life at an alarming rate.

The real shots were fired in 2010, when the iPad was launched. Apple's vision for the iPad was clearly a full, PC-quality version of the web. And if that vision didn't have Flash in it, it never would.

But Lynch carried on fighting, writing shortly after the launch of the iPad that:

Some have been surprised at the lack of inclusion of Flash Player on a recent magical device. […]

We are now on the verge of delivering Flash Player 10.1 for smartphones with all but one of the top manufacturers. This includes Google’s Android, RIM’s Blackberry, Nokia, Palm Pre and many others across form factors including not only smartphones but also tablets, netbooks, and internet-connected TVs. Flash in the browser provides a competitive advantage to these devices because it will enable their customers to browse the whole Web.

Since then, Palm has gone bust, Google has dropped support for Flash, and Nokia has adopted Windows Phone for its smartphones – which doesn't have Flash. Only BlackBerry is left supporting the plugin, although even it turns Flash off by default. And if your last hope rests on BlackBerry, you may as well start price-matching undertakers now.

Because here's the secret: you don't need Flash. And that's not "you don't need Flash on mobile devices". Unless you play a whole bunch of Flash games – and I'm not judging you if you do (I am totally judging you if you do) – then uninstalling Flash Player will make your browser quicker, less crash-prone and less ad-heavy.

I haven't had Flash on my Mac for 6 months. Nearly every site that uses Flash only uses it for adverts. And more and more things which used to require Flash now have a fall-back which works on modern browsers. Almost every video site will now happily play video through HTML5, and the days of functionality being limited to flash for e-commerce are over. Embarassingly, the biggest exception is the BBC iPlayer, which still only plays Flash video.

So there are still times when Flash makes things easier, and my personal fallback is an installation of Chrome. Google uses its own Flash player, which means that you can have a browser which uses Flash without it infecting everything else – and without allowing any of Adobe's other crudware onto your system (yes, I'm looking at you, Adobe Updater).

But the real question is, if Lynch's legacy at Adobe is the slow death of one is its only consumer products, what does Apple want with him.