Is Flash on Android “Shockingly Bad” or “Shockingly Great?”

65 Comments

Since posting Kevin Tofel’s demo of Flash (s ADBE) video on his Nexus One (s GOOG) handset, we’ve received a ton of comments: some pro-Flash, some anti-Flash, some anti-Apple (s aapl), some even anti-Kevin. One of the more interesting aspects of the debate is that many readers posted response videos, showing their own experiences with Flash on Android mobile handsets.

Michael Panzer, a reader from Germany, for instance, posted a video of his experience with Flash video on his Galaxy S. Unlike Kevin’s experience, movie trailers from Metacafe — including the HD trailer of Alpha and Omegaloaded just fine, despite a few stutters along the way, as did the trailer for the latest Resident Evil film, also in HD. However, Panzer didn’t record his attempt to watch videos on ABC.com (s dis) or Fox.com (s nws), which were the sites that gave Kevin the most trouble.

Reader Dennis Forbes also posted a video response of his own. Using his own Android phone, he watched Kevin’s video on NewTeeVee (which is only slightly meta), debunking some of the claims of what mobile processors are capable of when compared to other processors, before moving on to watch some video on the device.

Forbes admits that he tried to duplicate Kevin’s experience with videos on ABC.com, Fox.com and Metacafe, but lays the blame on Kevin for “trying to play video streams that were too complex and has too high of a bit rate that the device just can’t handle.” He compares the mobile experience to one his son had on a Pentium 4 1.7 GHz PC that had been handed down: “I recall having similar problems; it was the same sort of deal… It simply couldn’t keep up.” Instead, he showed off how he’s “come to rely on [his Android handset] for some relatively low-grade needs,” including short videos from Zero Punctuation.

The strongest counterpoint comes from developer Paul Yanez, who recorded a video and posted a response on his blog entitled, “Video: Flash on Android Is Shockingly Great!!!” Yanez said he was surprised by our piece because he recently bought a Droid 2 and had had no problems with it playing Flash.

Yanez demonstrated the same episode of Bones that Kevin had trouble watching due to “seconds per frame” instead of “frames per second” being displayed during playback. In Yanez’s video “there’s no stutter, there’s no choppiness, the audio is synced up” when playing the 43-minute Bones episode, which leads him to conclude that “there’s nothing wrong with the Flash player” on the Droid 2. In his experience, the Flash player is stable, very powerful, and “there’s no difference between the Flash player in this mobile phone than on a desktop.”

What you need is optimal code, according to Yanez, who placed the Bones video on a blank HTML page before playback. As a result, he blames the Fox website for the issues that Kevin experienced during his demo, not the Flash video player itself. All Fox has to do to improve the experience for end users, according to Yanez, is make the video an image and launch the video player in a new window.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Lynn Wallenstein.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: HTML5’s a Game-Changer for Web Apps (subscription required)

65 Comments

digitaltraffic1

Aah guys, guys… Within over a year we’ll be surfing and laughing all over the internet with our dual 2GHZ CPU powered Smart Droids in FLASH style! Technology will catch in on this ‘war’ before it has even really started.

Nathalie

Aah guys, guys… Within over a year we’ll be surfing and laughing all over the internet with our dual 2GHZ CPU powered Smart Droids in FLASH style! Technology will catch in on this ‘war’ before it has even really started.

bandaids

whats up with all the bandaids on these two dopes hands …you 2 pickin your ass to hard?

Simon Widjaja

I think Yanez is right. I did some tests on my own and was surprised by this fact:
I produce a video music magazine (rockinvasion.de) which runs fluidly on my HTC Desire. And the funny thing is that it’s embedded in a complex Flex application – no HTML around. As Adobe mentioned: Flex is not a good idea to run on mobile devices, because it is not optimized and needs too much CPU and memory. But in my case it is working perfectly – even in combination with a video stream (which is delivered via Wowza Media Server). So I think Flash on mobile devices is not bad at all. But it is the first release and there is still lots of work to do. But I like the teamwork of all non-apple-vendors (open screen project, open handset alliance etc.). That is the way modern development should be like. I prefer a android powered device over an iPhone that does not support it at all. Right now I’m playing around with Flex AND Papervision3D in the AIR-Runtime. I didn’t expect it to run… but it does! I’m loving it ;)

spooky

Shockingly bad. Flash sucks on a desktop browser. The limited Flash on Froyo is basically unusable.

And brown cow, why are you not using the iPad’s YouTube App? I have never had a crash in two years plus on iPhone or 4 months on iPad running the YouTube app. I have ALSO never had a crash of NetFlix on my iPad, even when streaming many HOURS of content to alleviate boredom in a hotel room on a really crappy wifi connection.

I LOVED my iPhone 3G. I LOVED my iPhone 3Gs. I LOVE my iPad. I also LOVE my HTC EVO 4G, made all the more yummy by it’s connection to Sprint rather than AT&T. But Android simply is measurably less stable than iOS, in my experience, and is much harder to balance performance with battery life. The richness of choice on Android is paid for by a hit in stability and battery life. If you don’t mind plugging in whenever you are near a power outlet and running battery management apps and turning radios on and off as needed (and I don’t but most of my friends do) Android offers a HUGE ecosystem of options iPhone just can’t, but if what you want is “it just works” iPhone is the choice. This isn’t hypothetical, I’ve used 2 iPhone models (and iPad), webOS on Palm Pre, and an HTC and a Samsung implementation of Android in real-world everyday use.

I look forward to the day when HTML5 is fully implemented because plugins are a poor answer to media on the web. HTML5 in Chrome is faster, more stable, and better quality, in my experience, than either Flash OR Silverlight on my Mac, on the Win7 netbook I travel with, and on the Ubuntu notebook I experiement with Linux on.

Sgtbaxter

Your hit in battery life and stability is due to you owning an HTC phone. My Droid goes through a heavy email and web day just fine, and usually has at least half the battery charge left at night. Plug into a charger every chance I get? Nah.

Samsung? I won’t even comment on that.

Jack C

Yes, by all means, let’s feed the trolls. Flash is awful, as evident by this one video clip (i.e., Apple win+1). No wait, Flash is amazing, based on these three video clips (i.e., Apple fail+1).

Mole Jaminowski

Why don’t you people realize Flash is awful and clogs the tubes of the internet. The IT industry can do better and HTML 5 looks like a good step in the right direction.

Some here seem to wish they had a CHOICE to run Flash on iOS but you fail to acknowledge that Steve is much smarter than the vast majority of users so why not let him make the smart informed decision and save you from taxing your brain. Like most people say: If Steve’s says you don’t need Flash than more than likely YOU DON’T NEED FLASH. You can thank me (and Steve) later. Good Night and Sleep Tight.

Hugo

I find it funny that what most iTards fail to realise is that Flash is NOT just video.
Video this video that… What Steve jobs wants is to continue to tap into your wallets with there’s an app for that.
Most apps in the crapstore are worthless if your iToys had a browser that could render/play STANDARDS open or closed, not just the ones that uncle Steve wants you to use.
Bazillions of games and complex and robust applications exist in flash. Wake up.

Jonathon Winworth III

I seriously doubt most apps in the fantastic Apple App Store are worthless. There are more than 250,000 wonderful apps, many used daily by millions of users to greatly increase their productivity. Apple has more applications than all other app stores combined plus all Windows and Unix/Linux apps that have ever been created. It is no joke when they say “There is an App for that”. These specialized apps have changed the world forever.

If the apps are so worthless than why does Android, Blackberry and other App Stores COPY SO MANY OF THE ORIGINAL APPLE APPS ???

SeaWaLK

Just curious, why do apple users totally ignore the fact that flash runs fine in flash-based games?

Also, i can choose whether i want to run flash on my android player(no restriction whatsoever), how about apple fanboys?

What happens if the website you wants to visit is based on flash? I will be so disappointed if i can’t even have this web experience. But i dunno about apple fanboys… somehow they can live the way steve jobs ask them to.

The whole point is, i can make the ultimate decision. that’s what freedom of choice is all about.

Wang Hung Lo

This does not look good for Flash 10.1 and we waited how many years for this upgrade ? Shame on you Adobe.
Let me make this perfectly clear, THIS DOES NOT LOOK GOOD FOR FLASH AND ADOBE.

Grim Reaper

Flash is completely unreliable and crash worthy. Steve has spoken and most will agree. Flash is dead to me. Long live HTML 5 !!!

arthurpjohnson

I own an EVO 4G that I’m running on WIFI capable of 25megs and I have been trying to find something good to say about Flash ever since I got my Froyo update. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, it is like a dog dancing on its hind legs — the great thing is not how well it’s done, but that it’s done at all. Yes, I can get It to run. No, I would never willingly load a Flash page for the pleasure of it. I would ask Forbes to fake a site that does both a Flash page and an Android App. Tech News Today (TNT) for example. The Twit app makes this show a pleasure to watch. Try watching the Flash page and you’ll soon give up.
I don’t think that anyone needs to argue to Kevin’s favor. The fact is that Flash is an embarrassment for most of us Android users, and providers that continue to use it are going to be roundly punished, period. Perhaps when smart phones are running dual-core processors and ridiculous CPUs, we’ll use Flash routinely. By then, Flash may be dead. APJ

Brad Hutchings

Wrong on the reason for difficulties with abc.com. The reason is the Javascript logic used for commercial and video queueing. That’s what gave you trouble, not Flash.

Here’s a hint. If you are going to do performance tests, you need to have someone do them who can actually understand what is causing a poor perceived performance issue. No matter what you are testing, the underlying issues of poor performance tend to be very complicated and can take days or weeks to get to the bottom of. When you blame one technology when it’s clearly not an issue with that technology, you don’t garner much credibility.

Inconvenient Truth

Mister Brad you are way off the mark on this one. This is totally a Flash 10.1 problem. It can be replicated on many sites and many platforms. Flash is the only common component during the tests.

Clearly you need to get a serious dose of reality in your next meal because it looks like you suffer from some kind of reality deficiency in your bloodstream.

This test provides indisputable evidence that Flash is no silver bullet for mobile multimedia adventuring and is totally unusable in many (with emphasis on many) circumstances.

Brad Hutchings

So, I’m assuming you looked at the source of the abc.com page? Because if you did and you could dig through all the stuff in there that attempts to enforce the commercial viewing and map that to what the author of the original “Flash Sucks” article reported, you’d see it’s a JavaScript issue. The Flash player does not get an opportunity to play any video.

I wish you guys would be honest with the observable facts at hand, or at the very least be honest enough to say that you’re not knowledgeable enough to evaluate the claims.

Tibi

For the html5 supporters. Html5 is consuming more resources including processor resources that flash!

Grover

I agree Flash is a huge resource hog and sucks the life out of most mobile processors without a doubt. So what is your point about HTML 5 since it just works.

Tibi kindly do homework next time. :-)

Leo

It’s a fact that that HTML5 is slower in most situations. Just look at some benchmarks.

There are many aspects when it comes to performance:

If we talk about video it’s quite even. HTML5 and Flash acts as containers, and the main factor when it comes to performance will be the codec used and if the os and hardware allows hardware acceleration.

When it comes to script execution HTML5 depends on JavaScript, which is a dynamically typed language. That is a major disadvantage when getting optimal performance from a JIT-compiler. Flash uses Actionscript which is based on a more modern revision of the ECMAScript standard and hence has strict typing. Also Flash is pre-compiled, which also benefits performance.
Here is a couple of benchmarks testing script performance:
http://gamehaxe.com/2010/05/25/javascript-ready-or-not/
http://www.bytestrom.eu/blog/2009/1120a_jpeg_encoder_for_javascript

For rendering graphics both canvas and svg is considerably slower than Flash:
http://www.themaninblue.com/writing/perspective/2010/03/22/

rick

The problem with the pro-Flash responses is that they’re not realistic. For example saying “trying to play video streams that were too complex and has too high of a bit rate that the device just can’t handle.” completely ignores that the entire reason for arguing for Flash on mobile devices is so that you can experiences the ‘entire Internet’ – but if that translates to ‘the entire internet except for the tough stuff’ regular people will get frustrated.

And the guy who put the Bones video on a new, blank web page is even further off the mark. Yeah, it plays fine if you ignore the page it’s actually on that most people will use. Sigh…

Look, regular people aren’t going to extract a video and toss it on some sample page. They’re not going to care if the video was encoded at too high of a bitrate. They’ll do what Tofel did – go to the pages that they want and expect the video to work. That’s the promise Adobe and Google have made. That such an experience doesn’t work well without hacks is Tofel’s POINT.

Paul Yanez

All I said was that the current fox.com website with video embedded within the webpage is not optimized for the web. All they or anyone who wants to provide a better user experience with video is detect whether the user-agent is mobile and if so swap out the video with an image that clicks through to the video page. That is how Youtube and the iPhone does it. It is not a hack, it is very simple, cost efficient thing to do and is very realistic.

Joe

I agree with Paul.

It doesn’t take a genius to see his point. Which Rick you totally missed.

As a developer like Paul, you have to isolate what’s causing the issue. When Paul removed the page and kept the flash player, you could immediately see that it was indeed NOT the flash player casuing the issue.

The Flash Player is just fine.

Additionally, Adobe has been instructing all of us developers to optimize flash content for mobile devices if that’s part of our target market. SO the whole issue of “No ones gonna do that” is moot.

We already are, and all you as the user is going to see is a better flash experience on your mobile device, better flash video on your mobile device etc.

Paul’s point rings true not only for developers who understand this stuff, but for users who don’t need to understand it, and just want it to work.

worldbfree4me

@ Kevin C. Tofel
Great to see you come back with a second post allowing additional feedback on the topic of Flash Dance on our Androids. I have your site Bookmarked and will be a regular visitor. Also, I own an EVO and statistics show that Android users are more likely to click on adds than the iDont crowd. So go ahead and post some ads, I’ll click on a few so long as you optimize your video feeds for my mobile phone :)

Aditya

Sorry for being off topic… but still I was missing it a lot.

As for the Flash thing…. Even a kid can see right through Jobs’ misleading evil motives masquerading as a “customer experience champion”.

W.M.A.

So the average consumer(my mother and father for example) is supposed to worry and wonder if a particular site is optimized for flash 10.1? Please….

Jobs was right. Flash on portable devices is still too inconsistent at this point after years of development.

Bigboy is right, what about the battery?

Michael

The battry will drain faster whenever you watch videos which is compute entensive. It has nothing to do with Flash itself. HTML5 will not use any less battery.

Your “Bigboy” Jobs was misleading as he usually is.

Darwin

Always amusing when people who don’t know anything try to pin the movement away from Flash on Jobs. When Microsoft, Google and many others are saying the same thing and supporting HTML 5. You think it’s just a coincidence that Google is moving You Tube to HTML 5 as fast as they can? Pay attention.

Michael

Sorry, you are the one going off topic with a blatant lie. Nobody (except Jobs and his sheeples) is pushing HTML5 citing battery issues of Flash playback. When Flash and HTML5 both play a video of the same H.264 codec and resolution/quality, you are not going to see much difference in battery usage — they both will drain faster than normal browsing.

Stop spreading FUD against Flash. But I fully expect Jobs fanboys will continue to do so because iphone and ipad will be as good as dead if people keep using Flash.

PRETHOUGHT

Yeah, Michael that’s why Microsoft is pushing Silverlight because Steve Jobs told Microsoft that Flash is crap.

Leo

@darwin
I suggest you pay attention yourself.

Google are not “moving You Tube to HTML 5 as fast as they can”.
They have an experimental HTML5 version with limited functionality that gives considerably worse performance for most users.
No major video sites defaults to HTML5 if the user has the Flash Player installed, and only use it to be able to serve video to crippled devices as well.

And I guess you missed Googles investments in WebM?
Microsoft has stated that they will not include the codec with IE9, and Apple will not support it in Safari. And even if all browsers would release a version with support for WebM today it would take many years before a reasonable number of users has updated. Lots of people are still on IE7 and even IE6 which is like 10 years old now.

Adobe on the other hand has announced support for WebM with Flash, and a new version of the Flash Player usually reaches over 90% within a year. With some help from YouTube it will probably be faster, especially when only counting YouTube users.
If you think Flash will not remain a central part of YouTubes strategy you are delusional.
By the time 90% of their visitors has a browser with WebM support, WebM will surely be superseded by another codec.

Also you might have noticed that Google are integrating Flash with Chrome and are part of the Open Screen Project. So while they are supporting HTML5, they obviously are capable of supporting several technologies at once. Unlike MS and Apple they have no interest in trying to promote one technology over the other. They will primarily use whatever gives the best accessibility, performance and features. For anyone with a clue about the technology Flash will clearly be the obvious choice as the primary means of delivery for YouTube in the foreseeable future.

grellanl

I have to say, my impression/expectation of Flash on mobile devices was never “all the existing stuff will magically work straight away.” I thought the value would come down the line, and it would take work before it was there. It seems that most folks are not so patient.

And everyone’s focusing only on video, too.

Flash (and AIR) is a cross-platform runtime that would allow creation of mobile-targeted apps with commonly-available tools, and using widely-available skillsets
Flash can be used as a video platform, but ideally, the video should be tailored for mobile devices

With the rise of decent mobile web browsers a couple of years ago (esp on iPhone), there was talk of “never need a separate web page again, just use the desktop experience.” But how did that work out? More and more sites are making really good, mobile-friendly versions today – because they improve usability. For stuff to work well on both desktop and mobile, takes work and careful thought.

Now I’m not particularly a fan of Flash; I’ve run Flash blockers on PCs for years and all-Flash websites irritate the hell out of me. But it does seem we’re clamouring to say the thing has failed out-of-hand, when it hasn’t even got going yet.

Bigboy

And, shockingly, no mention of how much battery was left after playing one video.

jw

Exactly …

… I wonder how good the “entire web” experience is with a dead battery.

Mark

Sure. Because HTML5 video using the H.264 codec doesn’t drain battery at all.

Hate to break it to you, chief, but all video functions eat battery not just the ones Steve tells you not to like.

jw

rate

/reɪt/ Show Spelled [reyt] Show IPA noun, verb, rat·ed, rat·ing.

a certain quantity or amount of one thing considered in relation to a unit of another thing and used as a standard or measure

Good try though … using Jobs in your argument was clever and original though.

Scott

Really? I don’t experience any significant difference in iPad battery life between general email/browsing use and Netflix streaming.

Ted T.

Hate to break it to YOU, chief, but the iPad can play 12.5 hours of HD h.264 video before the battery runs out. You show me any other device that can do that with Flash, and I’ll concede you have a point.

Until that happens, the facts are simple, if you care about battery life you chose HTML5/h.264 over Flash.

With the web as it exists now, the mobile Flash experience is horrific. If you are going to change websites anyway to improve the mobile experience, you do so using HTML5, not Flash.

Bupka Cordon Blue

Hate to break it to ya Marky Mark but Stevey Steve is like so much smarter than you.

Sorry but Flash is a CPU and Battery WHORE GALORE!

Steve’s baby HTML 5 runs cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Kevin C. Tofel

Great video responses so far. What’s interesting to me is that all of the performance variance — I’ve had both good and bad experiences with Adobe Flash Player 10.1 — is a key takeaway. The variability of the experience is dependent on the site, video format (optimized for mobile or not) and of course, hardware & and connectivity. I’m not suggesting Apple is “right” for not allowing Flash on iOS, but that decision is consistent with Apple’s attempt to guarantee and control a consistent user experience.

Michael

What Jobs did was to blame the bad experiences on Flash. That was simply misleading and insulting to those of us who know the truth (just like in the whole antennagate).

There is nothing, I mean NOTHING, in HTML5 that will solve the problem of phones not being able to play some video streams. HTML5 or Flash, the developer has to code and setup the video stream (or multiple versions of streams) properly for mobiles with varying degree of capability.

brown cow

Safari on my iPad “consistently” crashed when I’m on m.youtube, who should I blame that on?

PRETHOUGHT

Who should you blame? Yourself. If it crashes “consistently” there is something flawed in your hardware and you should take it back for a new one. If you went past 30 days on it and or didn’t get an extended warranty too bad for you. Mine has yet to crash on me. I guess your so use to a bad experience with other hardware you just assumed an iPad that crashes consistently is par for the course.

Milind

Personally I have turned off flash by default on my desktop browser. But when I want to see an embedded flash video on a web page, I watch – just that video. Works well for me. And this is exactly how flash behaves on Android.

As others have said, it depends on how the flash/web has been coded. I’d think that it would be much easier to do that with already created content than to rebuild it in HTML5 and JS using immature tools.

But here’s the interesting this to ponder. I came across this site which compares different technologies http://www.themaninblue.com/writing/perspective/2010/03/22/. The flash video played well and consistently on multiple browsers. The Canvas video was all over the place across 3 browsers and my phone. So a similarly coded HTML5 video is much less consistent.

So I’d say, at least for the present, it’s pretty obvious that Steve Jobs is just plain wrong. It should me, as a user, that should get to decide if I want Flash or not.

PRETHOUGHT

Steve Jobs is not wrong. He’s the CEO of Apple if chooses to ensure that the iPhone doesn’t act as buggy as other smartphones he can.

I’ve found that viewing any flash video on my crappy froyo phone drops from 200MB to 30MB free memory. Funny things start happening to the phone whether I struggle past an optimized video or with a choppy non optimized one. Text message and new email alerts start tripping the phone out with crazy artifact of the notifications. Had I not installed a 3rd party task manager I’d have to reboot the thing to recover after watching a video. Oh oh and I found yet another bug Froyoism. My ringtone randomly changes on it’s own!

Your absolutely right you have the choice to decide if you want flash or not. If you want flash don’t buy an iPhone. Just like I have a choice after my carrier contract commitment is over to leave this Android crap behind me. Fortunately for google they have me captive for a year to put something out that’s better then frozen yogurt to change my mind. Did you hear me google your Android is CRAP!!! Fix it or the defections will continue to platforms that have a more consistent user experience.

Steve Lam

It’s pretty obvious that html5 and its capabilities are in its infancy. Testing it in several different browsers at this point in time to prove any sort of point is silly. Just like it would be silly to assume Flash 10.1 in beta stage is a direct indicator of how it would perform when the final release is out.

Unfortunately 10.1 is now fully out for mobile devices and fails to live up to expectations.

Jacob

Kevin, I think you had all Flash content load on your Nexus One when you did this video, which sucked down CPU and caused your flash videos to stutter. You should change your settings so that only flash content that you click on loads.

Andrea Campitelli

that’s what it allways will be, flash yes or no, html 5 yes or no. it depends on the device and the mobile connection.
AND on a clean and fast code.
mobile devices will never be as fast your ordinary workstation. so to all developer out there: it’s not the technologie that matters, it’s your way of coding that makes fast mobile experience!
think of it, all the time ;)

MrHasbean

OK, so to support Flash on mobile devices “all they have to do” is change the way their site works? That should be a simple enough job for all the Flash based video sites out there…

Marcelo Negrini

Well, bro, if the developers are any good, it should be a matter of changing a rule in a content management system. Otherwise somebody should get unemployed fast.

MrS

With that attitude, why should developers focus on transcoding their media libraries to HTML5? Why should they stop using a write-once run-anywhere approach with Actionscript/Flash and instead code up complex UIs in JS that may require custom code for each browser?

Basically, it’s a matter of what adds value. Popping out a video into it’s own window, as demonstrated here, is something that can provide big gains with very little effort.

Matthew Fabb

At least for sites with HD video, as Flash sites with normal or lower-quality video seem to be just fine. Also the site with HD video are more likely to be the sites that will make a lower quality video available shortly as more mobile phones include Flash Player 10.1.

It’s really not surprising that video with more pixels than are available on the screen of these small mobile devices have issues taking this video, decoding it and then shrinking it recalculating how each pixel should be rendered. Anyone who takes these sites and makes HTML5 video version of these same sites would result in similar problems.

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