In April 2010, Steve Jobs wrote a blog post called “Thoughts on Flash." Almost three years later, his words could not have more relevance.
In his post, Jobs details the limitations of Adobe Flash technology when it comes to developing video content for the Web. He notes obstacles that range from compliance with open Web standards to poor performance, to incompatibility with today’s mobile touch devices.
A bit of history first. Adobe’s Flash provided a great delivery mechanism for Internet ads during the early days of the online ad revolution. It allowed Web developers to replace static banner ads with rich animated images. Most importantly, Flash enabled that content to translate across all Web browsers, including Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. Flash abstracted the cumbersome coding needs for each Web browser, offering a universal solution for more efficient ad delivery.
But today’s digital marketplace comes with different demands. Chief among them is the need to deliver engaging ads across multiple screens and devices.
Mobile devices have revolutionized the way we are accessing and consuming; more than 20 percent of Web traffic now comes from mobile and an average of 40 to 60 percent of people access content from handheld devices. While Flash may be able to bridge the gaps between Web browsers, it is ill-equipped to transfer between the PC mouse and the mobile touchscreen: as Jobs has written, Flash would need to be completely rewritten to work on a touch interface that relies on swipes and taps and doesn’t recognize traditional mouse-driven ad behaviors like clicks and rollovers. Add to that the fact that most mobile devices, including all Apple devices, simply don’t run flash.
This limitation leaves creative directors in the lurch, as they can’t effectively include Flash-based rich media in their ads; it just won’t render on most mobile screens. The result is really cool Web sites with mobile-friendly rich, interactive content flanked by ill-fitting, flat banner ads. See for yourself -- try browsing a few big publisher sites on your iPad, and chances are the content will look great, but notice that all the ads have been reduced to simple images with no interactivity or opportunity for user engagement.
That engagement is absolutely crucial. Ads these days are expected to have a lot more than flashy animation that screams “look at me!” or “buy now!” that Adobe Flash -- as its name suggests -- was good at. Users now expect ads to deliver real value: Show me a product video, show me where I can buy it, tell me what others are saying about the product, or give me a special offer to purchase. These new demands transcend Flash’s capabilities.
The next generation of online ad platforms can and must be different. The future calls for adaptive ad technology or ad delivery systems that understand the environments in which ads will display and automatically optimize user experiences. These environments can run the gamut from phones to tablets to computers, and even next-screens like connected televisions. And no matter the environment, the ad content must be rich: Forrester Research reports that rich media and video ads are by far the most popular with ad buyers. Static images -- more prevalent than video two years ago -- are falling out of favor, declining at a rate of nearly 45 percent.
The time has come to change the way online ad production and ad delivery is done. We need to close the door on Flash and open another to new technologies that enable dynamic multi-screen rich media ads that accommodate and perform on all devices. Companies that adapt to this change and embrace new ad technology stand to reap the rewards of improved communication that builds a satisfied, interested and engaged customer base. The limitations of Flash that Jobs outlined in 2010 are now a reality -- it’s time for change.