Gartner Blog Network

HTML5 and the future of Adobe Flash

by Ray Valdes  |  February 10, 2010  |  56 Comments

Over the past week, I had a slew of press inquiries about the future of Flash, driven largely by the Apple iPad announcement — an event in which Flash was conspicuously absent. Of the top of my head, I put together some key points in the conversation, presented below.

As I mull these talking points over and discuss them with colleagues, some of these will likely end up in a research note, along with actionable advice. For now, here are some aspects of a multi-faceted situation.

  • Plug-in based RIA is not only about Flash. Any discussion of Flash should also (depending on the level of detail) rope in discussion of Microsoft Silverlight and Java. Many of the issues that impact Flash also impact these other approaches. For example, none of these run on the iPhone or iPad today.
  • HTML5 is the future of the Web, but that future could take a very long time. The HTML5 is large and complex, and current projections by the people working on the spec (Ian Hickson of Google and David Hyatt of Apple) are for all parts to be finished in the year 2022, some 18 years after the process began (in 2004).
  • However, some Web sites are already using (a subset of) HTML5. You don’t have to wait until 2022 to use HTML5 or a working subset of it. For example, YouTube and Vimeo have already rolled out use of the video element in HTML5. Other web sites and applications are using Canvas and offline storage. There is a de-facto working subset of HTML5 that is already starting to appear, both on the “desktop Web” as well as the mobile Web.
  • The working subset of HTML5 is nowhere near the power of Flash. There are many advanced effects that are only available in Flash or Silverlight or Java. For example, Google, which is driving HTML5, relies on Flash in Google Maps (for the Streetview) and in Gmail (for the multiple-file upload capability). There are tens of thousands of Flash games on the Web (at game portals like Pogo or as game apps within Facebook or Myspace) that would be difficult to do (in a performant way) with HTML5.
  • However, a significant majority of Flash content on the Web does not need to be in Flash. Although there are tens of thousands of Flash-based games, there are millions of Web sites that use Flash in a simple manner (for basic interactive content such as banner ads or splash pages). One could argue that much of this content is of low value (users get “banner blindness”, and are habituated to skip useless intro or splash pages). Regardless of its value, much of this simple interactive content could be replaced today’s HTML5 working subset, although only from a browser technology perspective.
  • It’s not just about features, but also about deployed infrastructure. This benefits Flash. A pragmatic perspective should look at the numerous tools, ad engines, business processes, infrastructure and platforms that support and/or enable Flash-based advertising. This aggregate mass will take a long time to shift to an alternative, no matter how good that alternative may be, due to sheer inertia of large scale systems that are operationally functional.
  • The iPhone and iPad throw a harsh spotlight on Flash, at least for those readers who only read about Apple’s side of the story in the mainstream press. Apple says that Flash is low-performance, insecure, drains battery life, and this week Jobs was quoted in some articles as saying that Adobe programmers were “lazy” because they did not improve Flash.
  • However, Apple’s resistance to Flash is irrational and long-standing. The comments about performance and security are hypocritical given that iPhone OS versions are regularly jailbroken through security flaws in Quicktime, Safari and other parts of the stack, and that there are many thousands of apps in the App Store written by semi-skilled programmers, or those who are in it for a quick buck. For example, the 3rd most prolific developer on the App Store had 943 apps to his name (releasing about five low-value, relatively high-priced, apps per day), until he was banned by Apple. So the resistance by Apple to Flash appears to be due, not to technical considerations, but to some kind of personal grudge or beef that Steve Jobs has with Adobe, one that perhaps dates back to the days of Display Postscript, John Warnock and the Next machine. Also playing a role is the potential for Flash to threaten Apple’s platform, given it is a cross-platform presentation layer on mobile and desktop machines. (However, Apple seems to grant Google a “most favored nation” status despite increasing competition with Android, which is why Apple’s objections to Flash seem irrational.) Barriers to Flash on the iPhone/iPad will linger as long as Jobs is at the helm of Apple. The question is what impact will this resistance have on Adobe, and to what extent Adobe can work around these limitations (as it has started to do with its Flash-to-iPhone compiler).
  • Any large powerful app will consume CPU and battery , whether that app is written in Flash, Silverlight or HTML5. Simple apps consume minimal resources, and most HTML5 and Flash apps are simple. Complex apps with high interactivity and large amounts of computation will consume CPU and battery no matter what technology they are implemented in. Some may be better than others in this regards — perhaps even 20% or 30% better –but such differences are incremental, not game-changers, in the big picture. Granted, the iPad has the potential to change the rules of the game a bit with the A4 custom processor that can decode HD video without draining battery life quickly (Apple claims 10 hours). But if the A4 is such a leap forward, one would think Apple would let allow Flash on board so it can fall flat on its face.
  • Flash has a long record of being light, fast and (reasonably) secure, which is why it is found in 98% of Internet connected PCs, and why it succeeded while other approaches failed in the market (client-side Java, ActiveX, WPF, etc). This does not mean Flash is the optimal choice for a Web page that requires simple interactivity (any more than client-side Java or Silverlight would be).
  • HTML5 is the future of Web, for simple interactivity, including charting, some limited 3D vector graphics, image transforms, video, audio. It is possible that 90 to 95% of an average enterprise needs could be met by HTML5 There are only a few classes of corporate apps that would gain significant benefit from Flash, Silverlight or Java over what is available in HTML5 or even in Ajax.
  • However, there is a portion of the Web that requires richer interaction,. Your mileage (i.e. requirements) may vary, of course. Your applications might require extensive offline processing, direct manipulation of graphics, real-time notifications and alerts, high-speed binary communication protocols, tight integration with local devices, and so on. In these scenarios, you might need to use Flash, Silverlight or Java (the exact choice would depend on your context, such as your development team, your IT landscape, your vendor relationships, and so on).
  • The choice among these technologies is not “all or none”. One approach that many, if not most, organizations might end up pursuing is a hybrid approach — sometimes known as “islands of RIA” or supporting “hot spots of interactivity”. In the near term, this requires a plug-in based approach, such as Flash, Silverlight or Java. Over the long-term (5 or 10 years), HTML5 may fit the bill.
  • The old anti-Microsoft alliance of Google, Adobe, and Apple is splintering. This was only a loose alliance to begin with (“the enemy of my enemy is my friend”). But now there are multi-way tensions and collision courses (Apple vs Google in mobile space, Apple vs Adobe in browser/plugin, and of course Microsoft vs each one of these).
  • HTML5 poses a strategic threat to Adobe, as well as to Microsoft and Java. However, Adobe is the most impacted in the short term — because Microsoft has some solid territory in enterprise IT environment (for example, Silverlight is leveraging the success of the Sharepoint portal), and enterprises do not shift direction easily. Also, Silverlight leverages .NET developer skills directly. By contrast, the consumer Web (especially the smaller more agile Web properties) can change direction and platform more quickly. Flash is used in 70% of high traffic Web sites, but some of these uses are surface-level and easily removed. (However, as mentioned earlier, it will be harder to turn large scale ad-engine operations around).
  • Adobe sees the writing on the wall and is responding. Adobe has undertaken various initiatives, from the Flash library for iPhone that allows compilation and embedding into native iPhone apps, to Flash 10.1 which is a more efficient implementation for mobile CPUs that need to conserve battery life, to improved security procedures and development process. Adobe’s future depends on how well and how fast it executes.
  • Lastly, the average enterprise won’t effectively use Flash or HTML5 or any other shiny new UI technology. Because the root problem as I see it is not lack of powerful UI technology. Instead, the root causes for sub-optimal user experience have to do with lack of appropriate process, and governance, and lack of a genuine commitment to a quality user experience. Such a commitment would lead organizations to adopt a user-centered usability-oriented development process. Rather than taking these steps, we see a lot of projects that are “stakeholder driven” (i.e., driven by internal politics). Very few organizations center development around user needs by relying on objectively measured data about user behavior. Most enterprises don’t care enough about the user experience to change their habits (developer-driven, vendor-driven, stakeholder-driven). The principles of creating effective user experiences are well-known among successful external-facing ecommerce or consumer sites such as Amazon, Ebay, Expedia or Facebook. Unfortunately, it will likely be a long time before these principles become part of the average enterprise skillset.

Anyway, that’s probably too many talking points for now.

And you, what are your thoughts and reactions?

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Ray Valdes
Research VP
9 years at Gartner
30 years IT industry

Ray Valdes is research director in Gartner Research, where he is part of the Internet Platforms and Web Services team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on HTML5 and the future of Adobe Flash

  1. […] here: HTML5 and the future of Adobe Flash Tags: apple, days, display-postscript, flash, perhaps-dates, personal-grudge, some-kind, […]

  2. Guillaume says:

    Great article!
    I can’t wait to have an alternative to Flash, because Adobe’s technology is still buggy and requires a good computer to be efficient. HTML 5 might be fantastic when all browser will be compatible. Dailymotion (a French YouTube competitor) offers already its full content with the video tag. Check it out (your browser has to compatible):
    Way better than Flash. It seems that many site with video content are switching to Silverlight right now. I guess Flash will die quite soon if Adobe doesn’t react.

  3. milan says:

    “Because the root problem as I see it is not lack of powerful UI technology. Instead, the root causes for sub-optimal user experience have to do with lack of appropriate process, and governance, and lack of a genuine commitment to a quality user experience.”

    Hurray!! That’s the point. And there are many cases where a “powerful UI technology” messes up a good user experience, due to increased complexity, performance issues and a lack of standards.

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by tspe: HTML5 and the future of Adobe Flash: (by @gartner_inc)…

  5. Chris says:

    You accidentally misquoted when html5 said it would be ready from your link-
    The link said it will be done in 2012, not 2022!

  6. AlexSal says:

    best HTML5 vs Flash article I’ve seen so far..!

  7. Openplayer says:

    You’re right when you say that Flash can do better than HTML 5 in some special domains. On the other way HTML plus JavaScript and JavaScript are way simpler than Flash to manage.

    My thoughts are that Flash need to better be embedded in the webpage to extend HTML 5 current and futures features to get the better of two worlds.

    We need JavaScript to be executed in Flash directly from the webpage with no ExternalInterface hooks and that DOM can access the Flash animation itself.

    If we want this to change before Silverlight took all the market share (MS said that Silverlight is installed on half the computers connected to the Internet today) Adobe have to do something in this way, and to do it quickly.

    A way to achieve results quickly is to work with the two open-source browser engines developers which represent near 40% of the market and to open-source Flash to integrate it as a native plug-in or at least with special developments made for Flash Player specifically.

    It’s why recently I have launched a website with a petition to sign to ask Adobe to open source Flash Player. Please sign it if you think this could be a good solution

  8. Dominick says:

    agreed, nice post!

  9. flashopen says:

    Clear, to the point, full of sense …
    Aplause for this article!

  10. John McRee says:

    Internet Explorer will kill HTML 5 adoption in enterprise. Most enterprises are still using IE6, and many are using IE5. It’s the curse of legacy software and the bane of UX designers the world over.

    Plugin adoption is actually fairly prevalent.

    I think in a cage match Adobe/Flash would win.

  11. Thanks says:

    Thanks, this is probably the most well thought out article I have read about this subject without any bias one way or the other. Although it might be worthwhile to mention that there is still no agreement on the video codec which is one of the supposed flash killers.

  12. leef says:

    Apple has made a clear decision to postpone web plugin additions, a choice isn’t agreed upon by millions of iPhone users who have attempted to install Flash Player on their iPhone.

  13. Adrian says:

    As a long time developer of Javascript/HTML/CSS and Flash I applaud this post. I laugh when I read about ‘buggy issues’ and almost fall into fits of laughter when people only think of Flash in the banner/fluff context.

    I have used both for many years and I chose based on the tool needed for the job.

    However, I am partial to Flash because of the Flex Framework. I spend a majority of my time developing high end enterprise applications. In the days before the Flex Framework it was a nightmare, now things are far more efficient and the development time is nearly halved.

    I have no bones with HTML5, but I have to laugh when people discount Flash as I find they usually have very limited knowledge of the platform; parrot what they read or heard somewhere else.

    Thank you for a level headed post.

  14. […] to the RSS feed for updates on this topic.Powered by WP Greet Box WordPress Plugin Check out this interesting post by Gartner’s Ray Valdes, HTML5 and the future of Adobe Flash. Our favorite part: Lastly, the average enterprise won’t […]

  15. Joe Auty says:

    I think one important point you left out is that Flash is not “light” and “fast” under OS X. Flash is horribly slow to the point of being virtually broken. Compare the framerates you can get in Quicktime/HTML5/Canvas/anything but Flash to Flash and you’ll see a real difference.

    It is also this difference that probably results in Flash draining battery life faster on mobile devices. There is a reason why many Mac users dislike Flash, it’s because performance is so horrible on the Mac. This surely helped shape Jobs’ longstanding grudge.

  16. Rick says:

    Great article! Be careful making sense like that, I’m not sure it’s politically correct…

    I think that HTML5 would be great, if you can get the W3c to approve it. To understand what I mean, I offer the state of CSS 3 for your consideration.

    CSS 1 was first proposed in 1994, and in December 1996 became one of the first recommendations of the then new W3C. Quickly thereafter, in May 1998, CSS 2 became an official recommendation as well. In 1999, CSS 3 was proposed to the W3C and discussions began. It is now 2010, and we’re STILL WAITING…

    The W3C seems mired in political and corporate bickering that keep it from making intelligent decisions about anything relevant. This is not surprising since membership in this consortium is, you guessed it, paid for. Corporations pay lots of money to have their \Experts\ on the board, making sure their interests are represented. As a result, This body seemingly no longer functions…

    I fear that no matter how good of an idea HTML5 may be, it will die on the vine, much like CSS 3, which has been in development in its current form since 2000. It seems if we want to move forward, we are left with 2 choices; Abandon a standards based Internet development model or move forward with adoption of new specifications and modules without the W3C approval. The latter is happening now, browsers such as FireFox, Safari and Chrome are supporting CSS 3 modules, in part or whole, opening the door for development using CSS 3.

    This is an industry that can move as quickly as we can keep up. We need to decide whether a standards organization like the W3C should be allowed to \Sit on\ and stifle viable, much needed technological improvements to the web for a decade at time, or should we simply sidestep them and move on…

    My two cents…

  17. Mansour Raad says:

    Very nice article – being a user of Adobe Flex, and a developer of very complex application with it (with a glee and a smile on my face), I see only _one_ reason why flash is not allowed on the iXXX devices is because you can deliver through a browser full fledge applications that bypass the app store, period ! it all comes down to the mighty $ and controlling the app store.

  18. […] Ray Valdes’ recent article, HTM5 and the future of Adobe Flash, he make some very interesting points… that is, if you can avoid looking through what are […]

  19. Sankaba says:

    I hate Flash for one simple reason: It doesn’t give users any interactive control at a basic level. For example, auto-playing audio and video (Have you heard “You have just won an iPod Nano”?). You have to turn off flash altogether which results in menus being unavailable. There may be 3rd party plug-ins to counter this, but that’s another overhead. Flash controls my web experience way too much, so arguments about Apple controlling your life is like pot calling the kettle black.

  20. Kristopher Schultz says:

    One commenter alluded to this, but it bears another mention. One talking point that should be on everyone’s list is rate of adoption. I look forward to the day where HTML 5 is an practical option for me. But that day won’t be until browsers that support HTML 5 reach the magic 80% penetration tipping point. Given that it’s 2010 and most of us in the public web dev space still need to support IE 6 – a browser released 9 years ago – I anticipate that critical mass of HTML 5 capable browsers won’t be reached for at least another 5 years. And that’s assuming that despite all past indications the browser vendors will be able to actually all implement the spec identically.

  21. Kristopher Schultz says:

    @Sankaba I’m afraid the thing that annoys you about today’s Flash content (it annoys me too!) isn’t actually specific to Flash technology. It will be a problem with HTML 5, too. I predict you’ll see plenty of auto-play HTML 5 content that doesn’t give you control short of turning off Javascript.

  22. Wolf says:

    Probably one of the most balanced analyses I’ve read on HTML5 vs. Flash. Thank you.

  23. […] Ray Valdes on Gartner probably offers the best and most balanced overview of the issues that face us as media producers for these platforms. […]

  24. […] Non biased look at Flash and HTML 5. HTML5 and the future of Adobe Flash […]

  25. […] Tweets Layers TV 2 Tweets Meat stylus for the iPhone 2 Tweets HTML5 and the future of Adobe Flash 2 Tweets Zack Arias – Atlanta based editorial music photographer » […]

  26. Fanboi says:

    Someone here mentioned that Silverlight is better than Flash – in what way exactly?

  27. Bart says:

    On a related note, you might be interested in Steve’s unhappiness about Apple’s dependence on slow and buggy gnu compilers for years. Of course, clang, llvm and eclipse will solve all of that…as soon as they can build a full c++ compiler. Maybe coming in right in time for full html5, around 2022.

  28. […] HTML5 and the future of Adobe Flash (tags: html5 flash apple adobe ipad usability google web2.0) […]

  29. As a Flash Developer who strives to achieve a fast, efficient user experience, I found this article pretty much spot on.

    If written well and implemented better, a Flash interface is far more desirable than even an HTML 5 experience because of one simple fact – consistency. When can I import a font on the fly with Flash, as defined by a external stylesheets even, and know as a developer and designer that the font will look identical in all browsers, then that simply doesn’t need to be beat; it’s perfect as it is.

    I spent two days last week just getting some simple javascript to act the same in IE, Safari and Firefox testing various versions of each browser – that’s just madness! And in the end, it was a workaround at best.

    We could use better Flash coders and yes Flash ad banners should be outlawed, but I agree with this article and I truly think Adobe and Silverlining and Java are still in the race.

    I think the real reason Steve Jobs is dismissing Adobe so vocally is that he wants to buy them… 🙂

  30. […] Ray Valdes weights in on the issue of Flash (in particular, in context of Apple’s stance on Flash in portable […]

  31. It's the platform says:

    All of this seems to be missing the point.

    Apple is in the midst of establishing a platform. It is very important to them strategically.

    Flash can co-opt that by being a “platform within a platform”.

    That’s why Apple won’t allow flash.

  32. Jeff Johnson says:

    Cogent, well done. i Wish i knew about this blog earlier.
    At CTN we did a pile of focus group research on interaction, UI, touch, publishing paradigms and advertiser benefits, largely based on all 4 screens of market being satisfied in a unified authoring and content managed system. Results are not public but you can tinker with the tooling at and see a basic touchscreen reality at

    We thought it would be simple, but after Focus group and IDI study it was evident that yet more testing is warranted and that will happen after our Joojoo and iPad and hp Slates arrive. Publishing to the interactive video engaged public with branded augmented digital delivery elements is a huge market, billions, and a lot is at stake. Competition is as brutal as the T-Rex that eats its young, and just as graceful about it.

    When the iPad and its larger screen touch-enabled competitive equivalents arrive, we look forward to Gartners take on this.

  33. David C says:

    Given that Adobe has had years to get Flash working well on OS X (which it hasn’t yet), it’s reasonable to expect that getting Flash optimized for mobile devices may take awhile yet. Also, Flash programs are generally written for computers with mice and keyboards and not for a tablet device. As such, a lot of them will fail. I can understand Apple’s desire to put usability before flexibility. I all for letting Android device users be the crash test dummies for working out Flash issues on touch devices.

  34. HelenLee says:

    I have used and developed with Flash since it was called FutureSplash and it´s just the greatest working environment for multi-disciplined creators-developers there is. I can do “everything” with one tool. The “war” against Flash on the web has been going on ever since that first revolver-animated-interface. The issues about speed, controls, autoplaying sounds and bogging down of loading etc has nothing whatsoever to do with the tool that is Flash, it has only to do with the implementation and the lack of understanding users needs of the person behind the “wheel”. Flash is great when used correctly. Optimized, without slow or audibel play delivering consistent content and design across platforms of all kind. fast and beautiful. IF used correctly. Else it can be hoorendous as we all know. With HTML5 it´s going to be ever worse cases of amateur-developers that will overload our browsers for no other reasons than that tey can and they never get out of their own quadruplecore processors and fiberinternet to understand how their work works on some users Netbook hooked to a mobilemodem. If for no other reason than that it will be cheaper to use without having to pay Adobes more and more astonishing licensfees for too frequent upgraded nonbackwardscompatible software.

    Like this levelheaded article says, it´s not about the tool. It´s about some common sense and thinking about your grandmothers userexperience before adding that thing that will impress your buddy but confuse and crash ma´s old cranky desktop.

    I would like to force Adobe to develop instantly working Flash for Linux though, it´s time.

  35. Edgar says:

    Great article. I would like to bring up another point in this flash vs. HTML 5 debate, and that is ease of development. javascript is such an unwieldy language; especially when compared to ActionScript 3.0 or in Silverlight’s case: C#. In my experience it becomes very difficult to maintain a large client side application that’s written in javascript; especially when management keeps requesting new features. Conversely it’s easy to make a maintainable application in flash (using Flex) or Silverlight, because the languages allow the developer to easily break the application up into maintainable classes. I could go on and on about this, but suffice it to say that I think javascript is insufficient for the applications that people are requesting. All that being said Google is showing some promise with GWT, let’s hope it works.

  36. Neil Shah says:

    Great Article !! I just wrote an article summarizing the same things which definitely impacts the smartphones industry.

  37. Edgollas says:

    the year 2022?…. yes this is misspell, the year the planning to be completed is 2012. Hope IE6 is gone for good by then.

  38. Dee says:

    “Most enterprises don’t care enough about the user experience to change their habits (developer-driven, vendor-driven, stakeholder-driven).”

    AGREE 100%

    However these same enterprises send staff annually to Gartner conferences – my IT department for example. Yet generally, IT management remains hopelessly illiterate of user centred requirements gathering, the importance of interface usability, iterative and agile development methods or anything that the last 15 years of ecommerce has taught the web working world. Gartner could help by leading IT folks to water perhaps …

  39. […] Ray Valdes has a recent blog post on the future of HTML5 and Flash, brought to light most recently by rumors of no Flash support in […]

  40. […] Are Dead… Oh, and Intros, Too, by XiikIs the Flash-Powered Agency Site Obsolete?, by AdFreakHTML5 and the Future of Flash, by GartnerFlash and Standards: The Cold War of the Web, by Dan Mill of A List ApartMozilla Warns […]

  41. […] HTML5 and the Future of Flash, by Gartner […]

  42. […] HTML5 and the Future of Flash, by Gartner […]

  43. […] HTML5 and the Future of Flash, by Gartner […]

  44. […] Are Dead… Oh, and Intros, Too, by XiikIs the Flash-Powered Agency Site Obsolete?, by AdFreakHTML5 and the Future of Flash, by GartnerFlash and Standards: The Cold War of the Web, by Dan Mill of A List ApartMozilla Warns […]

  45. […] Are Dead… Oh, and Intros, Too, by XiikIs the Flash-Powered Agency Site Obsolete?, by AdFreakHTML5 and the Future of Flash, by GartnerFlash and Standards: The Cold War of the Web, by Dan Mill of A List ApartMozilla Warns […]

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