Yesterday, I moderated a panel discussion on HTML5 and Flash at FlashCamp Seattle, a nice little event put together by the smart people at Universal Mind. It was a good time. For a web standards-oriented designer/developer like myself, it was cool to see how the other half lives and what drives them. There are a lot of good and talented people in the Flash community, and it was awesome to get to meet some of them. The panel went well, and I’d like to put together a blog entry on the conclusions the panelists were able to draw — but not today. Today, I want to talk about something else that happened at FlashCamp Seattle.
In the opening keynote, Ryan Stewart, a Flash Platform evangelist at Adobe, demoed Flash Player 10.1 running on his Nexus One phone. When I realized he was going to show it, I got excited — I’ve been wanting to see how well Flash really works on a phone for years.
Here’s what happened: On his Mac, Ryan pulled up a site called Eco Zoo. It is, seemingly, a pretty intense example of Flash development — full of 3D rendering, rich interactions, and cute little characters. Then, he pulled up the same thing on his Nexus One. The site’s progress bar filled in and the 3D world appeared for a few seconds before the browser crashed. Ryan said (paraphrasing), “Whoops! Well, it’s beta, and this is an intense example — let’s try it again.” He tried it again and got the same result. So he said to the audience, “Well, this one isn’t going to work, but does anyone have a Flash site they’d like to see running?” Someone shouted out “Hulu.” Ryan said, “Hulu doesn’t work,” and then wrapped up his demo, telling people if they wanted to try more sites they could find him later and he’d let them play with his Nexus One.
At that point, I tweeted thusly:
Flash on Android demo crashes twice. Speaker says “What site would you like to see?” Someone says “Hulu.” Speaker says, “Hulu doesn’t work.”
I made no attempt at judgement or analysis — I simply reported what I’d seen, as best I knew how in 140 characters. Now, 24 hours later, that tweet has been retweeted 300+ times, appeared at the top of Reddit, and caused a lot of Twitter noise. So, I felt some responsibility to re-visit it, add a bit of context, and perhaps a bit of my own analysis.
Let me start by saying that I’ve long been aware of Ryan Stewart — he’s a fellow Seattleite, and we have several mutual friends. I finally got the chance to meet him yesterday, and he struck me as a smart and super-nice guy. I have no interest in throwing him personally under the bus for simply doing his job.
Since sending that tweet, several people have suggested to me that Hulu may be blocking mobile devices, such as the Nexus One, from viewing videos on their end — the fault for Hulu not working may not lie with Adobe and Flash. I haven’t been able to verify this, but I’ll bet it’s true, so that probably explains Ryan’s “Hulu doesn’t work” comment. On one hand, I wish he’d explained why it didn’t work in the session. But on the other, it’s not really going to matter why it doesn’t work to consumers, so maybe it shouldn’t matter to a room full of geeks, either.
Let’s all be very clear about something: Flash on Android is beta. It’s to be expected that it’s crashy and buggy at this stage. From my perspective, the fact that the Flash on Android beta crashes is not an issue. What may be an issue for Adobe, though, is the public perception that demoing an unfinished product could result in.
Adobe is already way behind in shipping a full Flash player that works well on mobile. The natives are getting restless, as they say. A demo that crashes on everything it tries is not an effective way to gain confidence that you, as a company, are getting close to a polished product. The bottom line is that those of us who attended FlashCamp got a demo of Flash running on an Android phone, indeed — and it wasn’t impressive. We never saw an example of a site that worked without crashing under this beta version of Android. So if I were Adobe, I may choose not to demo this thing until it’s really solid.
On the other hand, Adobe’s in a tough spot. Flash has been taking a (mostly undeserved) beating in the media recently, and I’m sure they feel like they have to show they’ve got something in order stem the tide. Like I said, the natives are getting restless.
Personally, I hope Adobe gets Flash working well on Android soon. Flash is still one of the greatest tools we as web developers have, and the idea that HTML5 can do everything that Flash can do and thus renders Flash irrelevant is completely inaccurate — patently absurd, in fact.
But with media sites (and yes, porn sites) developing HTML5 video solutions for mobile devices, Hulu and many game companies moving towards native platform apps, and Apple’s impending release of iAd, the question on my mind is: by the time Adobe has Flash working well on mobile, will anyone still care?