UPDATE: Adobe has made it official. ZDNet was spot on with its report: the company will indeed move away from Flash Player on mobile “to increase investment in HTML5.”
Big news today: according to a report on ZDNet, Adobe has pulled the plug on its Flash Player for mobile plans. If you’ll recall, processor intensive Flash became something of a high stakes poker game between Apple, Adobe and rivals. Did it provide the full internet experience on your phone, or an unnecessary, laggy, surplus one? Millions were wagered in R&D, marketing and manpower.
You could argue this is a posthumous victory for Steve Jobs, who went so far as to pen a 1,700 word diatribe against Flash. Today Adobe, and thus Android, folded on its hand.
Actually though, I’m an Android fan, and I’m glad Adobe is backing down on this. You should be too.
As of right now, Adobe is shifting its approach to Flash on mobiles, which allows for streaming video and desktop games on your blower. It’s no longer planning on producing Flash Players for new mobile platforms, so you can probably forget about Flash on Windows Phone, which had previously been in the pipeline. Flash for Android and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet will be supported, but only patched with bug fixes and security updates: don’t expect any more useful features or performance boosts.
Instead, Adobe is focusing on using Flash as a means to make apps multi-platform easily using Adobe AIR, so it’ll cease to be something users have to deal with.
Good riddance, I say. I love Android, I love the ability to use whatever browser I want as the default browser, I love the ability to install plug-ins. I’m one of the people who isn’t willing to play in the iPhone’s walled garden. But Flash for mobile made that grass look very, very green indeed.
Adobe Flash for Android is a complete mess, and a crux for lazy developers to rely on. Take the BBC for instance. After booting the flawless BeebPlayer app, which tapped into the mobile streams meant for the iPhone and other devices, off the Android Market, it eventually came out with a BBC iPlayer Android app earlier this year.
It was more than a little pointless, because it required your Android phone support Flash, and as I pointed out at the time, if yours did, you could already watch BBC iPlayer. The app didn’t help: my Google Nexus S is completely incapable of streaming the high quality 800kbps stream of any Auntie channel or program on it.
I’d find myself putting my phone down and reaching for my iPad instead, because I knew the same show would work smoothly. That wasn’t even the worst of it either: less powerful smartphones were also given the update. Here’s someone’s attempts at getting Adobe Flash to run on a Google Nexus One:
Now, I’ll admit I don’t really have these problems on dual-core Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S 2 and LG Optimus 3D. It runs smoothly enough on them, but that’s the rub. If it runs on some Android phones well and not others, it’s just confusing to users, especially when the mobile YouTube app runs just fine.
And that’s not even taking into account all the Android phones that don’t support Flash at all, or the Android tablets without Android Market access that boast of Flash support, except that it’s not always available on launch and turns up a little later and – do you see where I’m going with this? I know the ins and outs of this because I’ve reported on it for so long, but the one in four people in the UK who own an Android phone shouldn’t have to. I don’t think anyone can say Steve Jobs was wrong if he wanted to make something that “just works”.
“What’s the difference between that video type and this one?” Joe Bloggs might ask. But in an ideal world, he shouldn’t need to know. If his phone can film and playback HD video, why does it tank when he tries to switch to 720p resolution on YouTube?
But surely it’s better than nothing, right? I disagree. Flash for mobile is a band-aid, a selling point to help Apple’s rivals sell their phones and tablets to the consumer against the iPhone. It’s a “Droid Does” thing, as one network’s marketing campaign went, back before it was allowed to sell the iPhone. It’s time for it to come off.
To be clear, Flash still has its place on the desktop. Don’t take it from me, take it from a YouTube engineer: there are all sorts of reasons why Flash still sticks around, from security for rights holders to camera/mic access for recording your own webcam rants for YouTube.
But why settle for it on some Android phones? If big rights-holders are finally coming round to mobile video and HTML 5 (In September, Channel 4 finally brought 4oD to iOS), why force some Android owners to settle for a miniaturised desktop version that sometimes works maybe if you’re lucky but you’ll probably have to put up with a lot of stutter and even then etc etc?
Android is more than good enough to stand on its own against the iPhone without having to shout about support for Flash, and that’s without even factoring the features coming in Ice Cream Sandwich.
“Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short,” wrote Steve Jobs in his April 2010 open letter.
“Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticising Apple for leaving the past behind.”
Adobe has been investing in HTML 5 for a while, but today, it drew a line in the sand. As an Android devotee – and not an apologist – that comes as a great relief.