Monthly Archives: November 2009

Website Design and Smartphones: To Flash or Not to Flash (Part I)

One of our clients noticed that his website wasn’t showing up on smartphones and other mobile devices. The problem was that his website used Adobe’s Flash which doesn’t render properly or at all on some mobile devices. We describe a solution in this first of a two-part series.

The Problem

Adobe Flash (formerly from MacroMedia) is a mature and dominate technology platform for showing animation on and providing high-end user interfaces for websites. Before smartphones, Flash could claim upwards of 99% browser penetration.

Flash’s penetration has been poor with smartphones. Up until recently, no smartphone supported Flash, and even today, only a limited number of smartphones support all the core features of Flash.

With the growing dominance of mobile smartphones, some companies whose websites rely on Flash are realizing that they cannot adequately reach their customer base. Companies that invested tidy sums in making their website into state-of-the-art user experiences are finding that a growing number of their customers are unable to interact with their sites from Flash-incompatible smartphones.

This is a problem that will eventually get corrected. While there seems to be some political posturing between Adobe and Apple with regards to bringing Flash to the iPhone, Adobe and ARM, the processor company behind most smartphones, are wrapping up a technology collaboration announced in November 2008 to bring Flash to most other ARM-powered devices by late 2009 or early 2010, and we are already seeing the results of that collaboration. We think it is clear that Apple will be forced to tag along at the end of the day.

Which smartphones support Flash? Basically, the iPhone browser does not while some of its apps do, the Palm Pre is about to, and all the Android 2.0 devices such as Motorola’s Droid and Google’s Nexus One do and will. Unfortunately, there are more iPhones than anything else, so this presents serious problems for existing websites that utilize Flash.

The Solution

If a website has just one or a few small Flash elements for effect but most of the site including the home page is non-Flash, e.g. HTML, then it would show the occasional blank space where the Flash animation would go. If a website’s home page or other web pages are completely Flash, or if the website relies solely on Flash for site navigation, then it may be mostly unusable.

In either case, the website would benefit from having some non-Flash-based alternatives dropped in and activated when a Flash player is not available. While the alternatives make not be as “flashy” (sorry), this quick solution will make a website more smartphone compatible.

DataPlex engineers know how to install alternatives to Flash into a website. Contact us for more information.

There is another, more clever technical solution which keeps some if not all of the “flashiness.”  You can read about here in Part II (coming February 2010).