/ Technology

Don’t cry for the death of Flash on Android

As of now you can’t download Flash on Android phones. Adobe has pulled the plug-in from Google’s Play store, saying it won’t work properly with the latest version of Android. However, I don’t think it’s any great loss.

Cast your mind back to 2007. Apple has just announced the original iPhone. It’s a big deal, but… ‘what do you mean it doesn’t support Flash? That’s nuts!’

I vaguely recall saying something to that effect to a journalist friend of mine, albeit in more colourful language. In hindsight it was a harsh complaint – no phones had Flash back then. But Apple was pushing the whole ‘the real internet on your phone’ line and in 2007 the real internet meant Flash. Indeed, the ASA agreed and rapped Apple for misleading advertising in 2008.

What is Adobe’s Flash?

Before I wander farther down nostalgia road, I should probably explain what Flash is. It’s the videos you watch in your browser, it’s YouTube, it’s BBC iPlayer, it’s those fun web games you waste your time playing all day at lunchtime – it’s also those really annoying website adverts, but all good things come at a price.

Flash, in other words, turned the static, staid world of the internet populated with text and photos into a wonderful interactive world of sights and sounds. Before Flash there were no funny videos of cats – oh the humanity! It’s still doing it, of course – most of the internet videos you watch on your computer are still Flash. But on mobile phones it’s an endangered species. And, frankly, it’s a good thing.

Why Flash failed on mobile and it doesn’t matter

Flash was (is) a product of its time. It’s designed for PCs, which means PC levels of performance and a mouse to control everything. While Adobe, the company behind Flash, got it to work on mobiles, it never worked well. Smartphones, even the most powerful ones, didn’t have the power to run it smoothly.

In the early stages it was just plain bad – slow, buggy and liable to guzzle your battery like a teenager on a weekend to Newquay drinks beer. By the time Flash reached some kind of (still imperfect) working order, it was too late – the internet had moved on to alternatives.

Flash is dead, long live HTML5

And that alternative is HTML5. Famously touted by Steve Jobs, who wrote an open letter ruling out supporting Flash on the iPhone and iPad, HTML5 has slowly gained a foothold on the net.

What it is isn’t important now – suffice it to say that it does what Flash does but efficiently. It’s not the finished article (as Flash devotees won’t tire of reminding people), but compared to Flash it’s a dream to use on a mobile.

Moreover, whereas two years ago support for HTML5 was limited, necessity led the great majority of the internet to support it. All the videos on Which.co.uk work on HTML5, as do those on YouTube, Vimeo, and (after much delay) the BBC. There are doubtless corners of the internet still ignorant to the charms of HTML5, but it’s adapt or die now.

Where once not having Flash meant missing most of ‘the real internet’ as Apple put it, now HTML5 is the future of the real internet.


I think the main mourners for the loss of flash will be the armies of virus writers that use the numerous holes in flash to infect this and that

Apple decided not to use Flash on the iPad, one of the reasons being that it would drain the battery too fast.

iPlayer uses Flash but iPlayer works superbly on the iPad. I don’t know how and I don’t really want to know, but perhaps a similar workaround could be done for smartphones. They are not exactly noted for good battery life.

Thanks for a simple explanation that I can understand, Andy. 🙂

It’s an excellent solution and maybe one that the phone manufactures could implement. Mind you, they are not clever enough to produce smartphones that will survive exposure to British rain or provide a big enough battery to be useful, so I won’t hold my breath.

I’m confused Andy. Have you edited your reply? I thought you had said something about codecs, which I did not understand but was being polite. 🙂

Thanks Andy.

But I still don’t understand how to get apps like BBC iplayer to work on Android (v2.3.5 on HTC). Quite a few apps. We in Android world don’t have flash player, we are told not to mourn, but what are we to use instead and how?

I cant use iPlayer on an older PC as latest Flash takes 100% CPU and still gives jerky video.
Would like a non-Flash option available for Windows XP.

All my PCs are over 4 years old.
I had no problem with BBC iPlayer in the early days but upgrades to it (and Flash) have clobbered the performance !
I get the best result using Chrome as the browser when streaming – the iPlayer program itself is unusable. Usually I try to download in Windows Media Player format.
Have now got a Smart TV and no problem streaming HD through iPlayer .