Adobe’s MAX developer conference is underway in Los Angeles, and the big news is Flash (almost) everywhere–and especially on phones. The company is announcing Flash Player 10.1, due in beta form on Windows Mobile, Palm’s Web OS, Windows, Macintosh, and Linux later this year, and on Android and Symbian in 2010; in addition, Adobe and RIM are announcing that they’re working together to bring Flash to BlackBerries and that Google is joining Adobe’s Flash-everywhere Open Screen project.
On a conceptual, forward-looking level, this is good news: The more options that developers have for building cool stuff, the better, and it’s best when the cool stuff they build works on as many devices as possible. The notion is that Flash will let them design functionality that’ll work on multiple computer and phone platforms without having to be reworked from the ground up–which will be an interesting challenge given how very different smartphones tend to be from each other in terms of factors such as screen resolution, graphics oomph, and connectivity.
But if full-blown Flash is going to be a welcome addition to the mobile world, it’s going to take some rethinking. At the moment, it would be pretty cool if all that video on the Web in Flash format was readily available on phones. Other than that, it’s hard to come up with examples of things that Flash does on PCs that are urgently needed on smartphones. Actually, it’s easier to name things we can’t live very easily without, such as animated Web-site intros, and anything else that loads slowly enough that it’s preceded by a meter indicating how much longer you’ll have to wait. If Flash content is going to be useful on phones, it needs to be Flash of a minimalist sort that doesn’t get in the way of accomplishing stuff when you’re on the go.
One company, of course, is absent from the army of Flash boosters that Adobe has assembled this week: Apple. There’s no reason to think that a version of Flash for the iPhone is imminent, and numerous obstacles stand in its way–all of them erected by Apple, which may look at Flash as a competitor to the walled garden known as the iPhone App Store.
The richer the bounty of software at the App Store gets, though, the less the absence of Flash on the iPhone feels like a major downside: With the exception of universal compatibility for Web video, most of the benefits that Flash might bring are already here for iPhone owners. I had the impression that iPhone owners spend less time pining for Flash than they once did, so I checked out Google Trends for “Flash for iPhone” to see how often folks search for that phrase:
Searches peaked around the time that the iPhone got third-party applications back in July of 2008, and have mostly been in decline ever since, though recent months have seen a modest uptick.
Here’s a question for owners of smartphones of all sorts: