Mobile Flash: Our Long National Nightmare is Over

Mobile Flash: Our Long National Nightmare is Over
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.

Mobile Flash: Our Long National Nightmare is Over
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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