I often hear customers ask us what's up with Flash? For the non-techy folks, we use a technology called Flex to do our programming, which results in requiring the user of our website to have Adobe Flash installed. Flash has come under scrutiny lately, especially from Apple, as a technology that is past its prime. Apple forbids Flash from running on any of their mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad. However, it works just fine on a desktop computer, Apple, PC, iMac, Laptop or Desktop, (disclosure: I own 3 Macs, 2 iPads and 2 iPhones so you could say, I'm a Mac guy). We have been watching with great interest the development of both our application, user feedback, financial performance and industry trends, like every company does, to inform our future decisions on technology.
We invested in Flash starting in 2007 when we made the decision to undertake a huge effort to convert our legacy technology to a modern technology stack. By "stack" I mean that we re-plumbed every layer of our application, from database, to business logic to user interface. It would take years. At the time we started in January 2008, we predicted that the web would become much more immersive and eventually feel more like desktop applications than web-sites. That prediction has mostly come true, but the Web is in a continuous state of rapid change. Apple, and others have begun to promote two methods for creating software: 1) Native code and 2) HTML5 web sites. By "native" code, I mostly mean apps. HTML5 is the latest version of the Web's primary language, HTML.
Today, HTML5 can accomplish much of what Flash has been able to do for years. It's not equal, but getting there; however everything has its pros and cons. The great thing about HTML5 is there is no "plugin" needed to run content, it just works in any browser, for the most part. I am often asked if we plan to continue building our web application using Flash, for which I hope this blog post answers our position. In the near term, yes, we will continue to invest in Flash. It is quite simply the most efficient development environment today for building complex, web-based applications. And by efficient, I mean the combination of developer time, testing time and design time. I believe that our customers frankly don't care what technology we use, as long as our products solve their needs, on the device they choose, at the time and place they want it. It is that requirement which forces any company to have multiple solutions based on the operating system and device where their software is going to be used.
We're doing things today that would be extraordinarily difficult and cumbersome in HTML5, on the edge of what's even possible. Especially given some performance issues with handling large data-sets client-side. But, the writing is on the wall. Long term, we will move away from Flash, into a combination of products and technologies including HTML5, native apps and even desktop (traditional) apps. Frankly, we consider everything we build for the user interface in Flash today as a prototype of what's to come.
For us, our continued investment in Flash will help us build tomorrow's interface faster, easier and better. The longer we wait, the easier it will become as HTML5 libraries, tools, development environments and web browsers mature. We are also honing our user interface, getting tons of user feedback, and dissecting our approach to every piece of functionality. Likewise, we are constantly gauging the market to see what the role of the Web will be. If we were die-hard Apple devotees, we wouldn't even build web-based software, they would much prefer that developers build native apps that interact with the Cloud. We think that makes sense in some cases, and makes no sense in others. We strive to solve problems using the best technology possible.
Another amazing trend that has taken place over the last 3 years (since we re-engineered our technology platform) is the advent of mobile, touch interfaces. Even if our website was already built using HTML5, the physical size and computation power of mobile devices demands that you have a tailored and customized user interface. Mouse & keyboard compared to finger and swipe are drastically different, requiring the designer to accomodate different use cases. Our application is highly interactive, form-based (tons of user input) and performs a lot of data analysis. You simply should not have the same interface when using a 27" iMac vs. using a 3.5" iPhone screen. Fortunately, that's exactly what we've built in our mobile and desktop products.
We have been aware of these needs for years. It is also why we have a separate interface for the iPad and for smartphone screens. In fact, our current TP Mobile app is built using an HTML5 web-application wrapped in native code for use on Android and iPhone. Our interface is even customized further for the iPad. Despite writing a new HTML5 mobile application from scratch just 2 years ago, the technology has already changed so much, we're scrapping the whole thing and starting over with a new approach for our future mobile needs. Things change. A lot! The reality is, it always has and always will. Flash vs. HTML5 is no different. In our case, Flash works extremely well when you have a full-blown PC or Mac at your disposal, connected to the internet. However, the internet is the fastest changing, most disruptive technology the world has ever seen, and it will continue to evolve at breakneck pace. As a company, you just have to be willing and prepared to deal with it.
I think our ability to manage change is precisely why we have prospered through 12 years of Internet craziness. In fact, since converting to our Flash interface, we've had our best years ever, by far. We're very thankful for that, it inspires us. That success is really not a result of the product itself, but rather of our ability to re-invest in people and technology in order to continue on our promise of building the world's best training software for athletes and coaches. No matter if it's HTML5 or HTML16, C++, Objective C, Flash, Java, Ruby, PHP, .NET, Cocoa, C#, WPF or anything else, we've led the way for over a decade. THAT is what we do, and that will simply never change.