The Long National Mobile Flash Nightmare is Over

By  |  Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 9:11 am

So it’s official: Adobe is ceasing development of Flash Player for phones and tablets:

Over the past two years, we’ve delivered Flash Player for mobile browsers and brought the full expressiveness of the web to many mobile devices.

However, HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively.  This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms. We are excited about this, and will continue our work with key players in the HTML community, including Google, Apple, Microsoft and RIM, to drive HTML5 innovation they can use to advance their mobile browsers.

Our future work with Flash on mobile devices will be focused on enabling Flash developers to package native apps with Adobe AIR for all the major app stores.  We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.) following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook.  We will of course continue to provide critical bug fixes and security updates for existing device configurations.  We will also allow our source code licensees to continue working on and release their own implementations.

Yup, Adobe–the company that has been maintaining that the Web isn’t really the Web without Flash–just said that HTML5 is “the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms.” That’s true. I didn’t expect it to concede the point just yet, but I’m glad it did.

The modern era of Flash on portable devices began just last year when Adobe released Flash Player 10.1 for Mobile.  The notion, however, has been around in one form or another for over a decade. Adobe, therefore, isn’t axing mobile Flash prematurely, and you can’t blame Apple for doing it in.

I never had a religious opposition to the idea of mobile Flash. Actually, I would have been delighted if it had worked well. But even as Adobe and hardware makers kept telling the world that mobile Flash was fabulous, my own personal eyeballs kept telling me otherwise.

When I’ve reviewed devices with the mobile version of Flash Player–ones like the Motorola Xoom, RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, HP TouchPad, and a bevy of Android phones–I’ve tried it out. The experience has always ranged from unimpressive to excruciating. Watching video was frequently like going to see a movie at a theater with a projector that keeps breaking down. Bits and pieces of user interfaces didn’t work, and was often painfully obvious that they were designed for mouse input, not fingertips. Games either didn’t play at all or weren’t fast enough to be fun. Certain things did perform as promised, but I never knew whether they would until I tried, and none of them were exciting enough to make up for all the hassle.

Which has always left me completely befuddled by the industry’s excitement over Flash. Why did it continually claim that the next version would be great? Why did hardware makers come up with phrases such as “Flash-enabled” to cover up the fact that they were shipping without Flash support? Why, oh why, would a company like RIM triumphantly run pricey TV ads focused on Flash support?

(This is a UK version, which is all I can find on YouTube, but I believe it’s the same as the U.S. one except for the voice of the narrator.)

I could never tell whether Adobe and its partners never actually used Flash on shipping products, or were desperate for something that sounded like a competitive advantage over the iPhone and iPad, or were simply caught up in some sort of irrational exuberance. Maybe all three. As I think about it now, I’m still mystified. (I sometimes wondered if it was somehow my fault that I couldn’t make Flash work.)

Whether you think Apple’s decision to bar Flash from its devices was cynical, pragmatic, or idealistic, it’s tough to make the case that it was bad for iOS users. In fact, it ended up benefiting them, because site owners and software developers who couldn’t use Flash ended up using other technologies–HTML5 and native iOS apps–that actually worked.

Belatedly and reluctantly, Adobe has come to the conclusion that a similar approach makes sense for all mobile platforms. Apple’s customers simply got to the future first. Now everybody who uses mobile devices will be going there. And everybody’s going to be better off for it.


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10 Comments For This Post

  1. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    Excellent headline. What a ridiculous almost 5 years of Adobe saying things that made absolutely no sense at all. Now we can get on to having a truly write-once, run-anywhere World Wide Web that isn't held back by proprietary Adobe Flash or proprietary Microsoft Internet Explorer.

  2. Brandon Backlin Says:

    Except on desktops; since they never said they would stop developing for those.

  3. N8nNC Says:

    It's been pointed out that Windows 8 won't support/allow Flash, so the death warrant for all platforms has been written if not yet issued.

  4. Brandon Backlin Says:

    Just the Metro version of IE 10, intended for tablets. The "classic" desktop version will continue to support the plugin architecture.

  5. WaltFrench Says:

    True; no reason to scrap what you have.

    But Flash on the desktop is marked, too. My employer's benefits page requires it (for no obviously good reason), but as soon as people start using Windows slates as their primary machines, and field staff can't see their 401(k) balances, UltiPro will have an ultimatum to fix it, or lose the business.

    Ditto sites like the WSJ and NYT, whose (paid!) readership can't be too happy at being cut off from important parts of their on-line subscriptions just because they thought an iPad was the perfect device to catch up while on the bus or on a wifi-equipped flight where a laptop only works for the lucky few in First or Exit rows.

    Now that site developers have gotten the wakeup call that they have been shunting away tens or hundreds of millions of prospective visitors by requiring Flash-capable browsers, why will they continue to shoot themselves in the foot by telling the customers that they were stupid to have bought a device that doesn't work on XYZ.Com? I suspect more people already access the web via a non-Flash-capable device than those with Flash, by bodies if not hours online.

    Hey, it's software! Sites can change, and they will. You don't have to claim that Flash is somehow “better” if it doesn't run on all the machines your customers use. Adapt or die.

  6. Digital Fruit Tech Says:

    Really, I've been disappointed by the whole mobile internet thing from the beginning. It has always promised to be the future of the Internet, but all I've ever seen tech that lags generations behind full blown desktops. I have yet to see anyone on an iOS device, Android, or Blackberry ever really use their web browser, everything they do on the "web" any more is done through proprietary apps designed into their phones or downloaded from marketplaces. I really think that what Adobe is doing is realizing that the web-page as we know it is becoming less relevant, at least in the mobile space, so they were shoveling things down peoples throats they weren't even using.

  7. WaltFrench Says:

    @DFT, there are many of us who get good generic web usage from mobile phones and tablets. My wife's iPad is a great thing to pull out when we want to see a friend's photos or find the Glycemic Index for Jerusalem artichokes. (Very cute and Go For it, respectively.)

    But I think you've hit on something with the fact that apps are providing a better experience than generic web pages for lots of purposes. When it's safe, cheap, quick and useful to get an app built for something, why not? Maybe this points towards a future evolution of the desktop- and laptop-accessed web, too: quick, perhaps instant invocation of an app that seamlessly organizes and communicates as you want. Sounds pretty good to me. Not so much for generic Flash in webpages.

  8. Joomla Design Says:

    A long established fact which has finally made some sense to Adobe. This would put into right prospective for mobile application development.

  9. F Baum Says:

    What made this "Fact" was Steve's clout. Now almost all mobile phone development has gone proprietary, which is a pity. I have an iPhone and an Atrix and flash in the browser works very well on the latter. The most popular iPad game of the summer was developed in flash and cross-compiled to native code. There's no question about it being a great cross-platform tool chain for creative technology people, and I'm disappointed that consumers will have fewer choices now.

  10. WaltFrench Says:

    “What made this "Fact" was Steve's clout.” Keep repeating that if you want, F, but it won't make it true. Jobs NEVER had control over BlackBerry 5/6/7, nor Palm, nor Symbian, certainly not over Microsoft. No evidence at all for this claim.

    But plenty for another view: Flash never came close to having a version appropriate to the early iPhones, which still make do very nicely with much less memory and CPU speed than Flash apparently demands. Shoehorning Flash required dealing with multiple OS's (and versions), multiple CPU and GPU chipsets, multiple screen sizes and drivers and other intricate fine-tuning. Adobe was ALWAYS guaranteed to be late, and losing huge amounts of money in the process.

    And not just on the lower-power phones; look at the Moto Xoom: Moto touted Flash as a killer feature; Adobe supposedly worked closely with Google; nVidia designed the chipset to run Flash well. But the stuttering, volatile and late Flash helped produce a tens or hundreds of million-dollar fiasco for Motorola. (Go back and read Harry's comments if you need to: Flash was a turd on a machine that was built for it.) No OS or hardware vendor is going to invite Adobe to ruin their business like that, and yet Adobe would have had to throw huge amounts of money at the problem to come close to succeeding.

    Time to disavow the propaganda that Adobe and its shills have been spewing. This “clout” thing doesn't ring anywhere close to true. The real story is that Adobe was NEVER prepared to support the highly diverse, fast-growing, fast-changing and highly challenging mobile workspace. Apple, as a firm with lots of attitude, merely was a good choice of scapegoat that could mislead developers. Don't repeat the willful ignorance.