Paul McAleer

"Upgrade Flash" is a bad user experience

Paul McAleer

Everyone knows that the iPad doesn’t support Flash. In the course of my iPad usage I can only recall one time when I truly missed Flash - and that was when I desperately wanted to hear the latest Ceelo Green song, which was not available in HTML5 format on YouTube. (I ended up viewing it on my Mac instead.)

But when I do come across Flash content, predominantly large homepage feature rotators, it is replaced by a message telling me to install or upgrade Flash Player.

Simply put, this message is now obsolete. It is an enormous assumption to think one is browsing a site on a laptop or desktop computer: smartphones, tablets, TVs, and other things we haven’t even dreamed up can and will access the full web. It’s high time to change the approach.

Naturally the best option is to create HTML content as a full counterpart to Flash. This begs the question, “Why use Flash at all?” but I’ll leave that aside for now. Offering a standards-based alternative suggests that your content deserves to be seen by everyone.

If building something out in both HTML and Flash isn’t an option, and you don’t want to ditch Flash, then you need to change the messaging to your users. Now. Putting up a generic message devalues your content to the point of uselessness. It says, “This really isn’t important enough for us to care about showing it to you under any circumstance. So nuts to you.” A brand killer, in other words. A lousy experience, in other other words.

Perhaps you can summarize the content in one or two lines of text? Maybe you can still include a sale price or two? How about not keeping your phone number in Flash?

The great HTML5 v. Flash debate has exposed a flaw in our collective use of Flash: all too often, it is the wrong tool for the job and usually represents a lack of understanding of the audience. There are exceptions. Hulu, for instance, is a very different case than a newspaper site which chooses to use a Flash object to display a photo gallery. And as Hulu spreads out to the masses, they’ll need to be more cognizant than ever about how they engage users with outdated technology.

However, there are many options which don’t involve throwing technology roadblocks in a user’s face. Telling users to upgrade is the hallmark of a bygone era when the only way to access the web was via a desktop computer. Things have changed, and your message should, too.