Why Flash will be King of Web Development for the Foreseeable Future

Posted: January 29th, 2009 under Opinion.

The answer is simple: market share. A development platform does not need to do everything right, it does not even have to out perform its competitors as long as it maintains the majority market share. The one thing Flash has done better than any other software to date is dominate its market.

The ‘embedded website application’ market is not as tangible as other easily understood markets. Since I am most familiar with game industry, I will use the current generation video game consoles (Nintendo’s Wii, Playstation’s PS3, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360) as an example of the importance of market share. To date, I still believe that the Wii has the largest percentage of the consol market. Put yourself in the shoes of a production house or a video game publisher. We are trying to make money; if we can only release a game on one platform because of budgets, we are going to pick the consol with the largest market share to try to sell as many titles as possible (assuming that different game audiences are spread proportionally and that each consol is able to support the game). Then interesting things start to happen. The next game development cycle comes around and you already have some expertise on one consol so you are more likely to stick with that platform. Furthermore, the first game you made contributed to the value of owning that consol, so the market share of that platform would increase from your previous game. Suddenly these upward and downward spirals start to form based mainly on market share. I know I am oversimplifying things but the most important principle to know about market share is that when you have it, market share should be easy to maintain, when you lack market share, it can be difficult to acquire. Nintendo got a lot of things right with the Wii. When the Wii shipped, it had a host of games ready, including exclusive licenses, to increase its value. The Wii was the most affordable consol, they had the easiest transition between consoles for developers, and it gave everyone something new to play with which expanded the pre-existing gamer community. There is nothing wrong with the PS3 or Xbox 360; they just have less of the market share. PS3 was in some ways the opposite of the Wii, where it was the most expensive product and the most difficult development transition; however, it still has its other media capabilities that keep it interesting. PS3 is also the most capable of all of the platforms, which lead some to think that it will eventually reclaim the majority of the market share; I respectfully disagree. Compared to the Wii and PS3, Xbox 360 is in the middle of the pack in cost, capabilities, and ease of development.

Turning our conversation back to Flash and the embedded application market, Flash has an incredible 99% penetration into desktop computers, the vast majority of laptops, and it is actively working on expanding onto phones and other mobile devices. Director and Java lost the market share war long ago. I am sure some people out there are still pulling for SVG or UIRA, I think it would be awesome if Sega started making consoles again, but that does not mean I think it will happen. The Flash Player is free to download and installs quickly. I still believe that the main reason that it was able to claim such a foothold was that Flash created restrictions so that swf files could not be malicious during a time when dangerous files and applications were running rampant. Flash has become so prevalent that everyone is learning how to develop Flash applications and audiences have grown accustom to seeing and using Flash applications. Its use is ingrained into the developer and user communities. It is almost like inertia. Everything is working to perpetuate the use of the Flash. Even if someone released a product that was better than Flash in every way it would still have difficulty breaking the market share cycle because of the costs of learning how to program and use something new.

Honestly, even knowing Flash’s imperfections and limitations, I am fairly pleased with what it is capable of doing. I also firmly believe that competition is essential to progress, so while I am crowning Flash king of embedded applications I am also willing to support potential usurpers in the future. In fact, it is exciting to think about what it would take to overcome Flash’s dominance; it would have to be something absolutely incredible. Ultimately, I think Flash is going to maintain its reign for some time to come. Similar to the video game consoles I think that there is going to have to be a leap forward in technology (or universal standards) to level the playing field before a product can derail Flash’s market share machine.

Thanks for reading, and remember, we are all in this together.

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1 Comment »

  • Comment by Flash Programming — March 3, 2010 @ 7:34 pm


    That is very ture and talk of easy export to Iphone/Ipod touch will make it even more unlikely to be beaten.

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