We Didn’t Even Bother with a Funeral

John Biggs wrote a short post on Flash’s quiet mobile sunset: “Hey, Guys, Remember When You Used to Care About Flash?”. This bit stuck with me:

Where is the outrage? Where are the flame wars? Why are there no open letters to Adobe? It’s because people have moved on and it’s actually kind of appalling to see. All that energy wasted. All that ill-placed anger.

I first saw Flash (not Flash Lite) running on a mobile phone around the Summer of 2009. I was still working at Domani, and Adobe had just dropped off a Palm Pre with Adobe Flash beta running on it. We huddled over the tiny screen and loaded up a few of our recent sites. We cheered as the first one slowly loaded. However, the novelty of seeing our work on a mobile device was quickly replaced by the sobering reality: most of the text and interactive elements were too small. Sites didn’t fit properly onscreen. And then the sites crashed, repeatedly.

That was about a year before Steve Jobs and Apple would publish their “Thoughts on Flash”, but I already got the sense that Flash on mobile was going to have a very tough road ahead. So I started dusting off my HTML, JS, and PHP skills. In 2010, a few months before my wife and I decided to move to Philadelphia, I interviewed for a “Director of Flash Technology” job at an agency. I sometimes wonder where I would be if that had panned out.

As for the very vocal outrage, outrage that’s notably absent now: I think a lot of it wasn’t even about Flash on mobile. I think it had more to do to the fact that mobile cast scrutiny on how we were using Flash on the desktop. Having to suddenly pivot away from your comfort zone is scary. So people got defensive, dug in, and created a divide. Suddenly Flash became this symbol of “open” technology, unfairly shut out of Apple’s platform.

The guys who were quiet? They were the ones who realized that Flash was still good for a great many things, but for mobile it was going to be native apps or open web technologies. So they put their heads down and went to work, picking up new skills or brushing up old ones. Meanwhile, some of their colleagues shook their fists at Apple and played the waiting game, promising that each new release on Android would finally bring the “full web experience”. It was late to arrive, and never delivered on the promise. So now comes the inevitable news, and everyone shrugs. The ones who got a head start are busy learning and growing elsewhere; the blowhards have probably just found another symbolic divide to rally their banners around.