Flash Loses Its Sparkle As Steve Jobs Is Proved Right—Once Again

Flash Loses Its Sparkle As Steve Jobs Is Proved Right—Once Again

It hasn’t been a good month for Adobe. First, the company announced that it will cease further development of the Flash player for mobile devices. Then, it announced that it will axe nearly 750 jobs here in Europe and in the United States.

Not surprisingly, shares in Adobe dropped by 12% even though in revenue terms Flash player was never a big contributor to the company’s coffers. It generally either was a giveaway or was provided to some mobile product manufacturers for a small fee. Adobe’s big money comes from license fees related to server applications.

Perhaps most surprising, though, has been Adobe’s announcement that it has pledged full support to a rival system, HTML5.

“HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively,” said Adobe vice president Danny Winokur.

“This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms,” he added in a clear reference to Apple’s rejection of Flash support on its dominant iOS devices: the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

“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,” Winokur said.

Adobe’s First Major Customer

Adobe and Apple go back a long way. Apple was Adobe’s first major customer during its early years and was also an investor and part owner of the company. So why didn’t Apple ever buy into the Flash scene?

Despite that historic and financial link with Adobe, Jobs was always adamant that it wasn’t the right system for iPad and iPhone for a number of fundamental reasons (see “Jobs, Lynch Clash Over Flash” at www.mobiledevdesign.com).

Jobs correctly maintained that Flash was never a truly open product primarily because it was only ever available from Adobe and the company had sole rights on how the product would be developed in the future. Jobs did not see this as an open philosophy. Apple adheres to the belief that any product standards used directly with the Web should be open, hence its use of HTML5.

Adobe, of course, always pitched the view that Apple mobile device users are missing out on a lot of Web content because most Web-delivered video is Flash-based. This is only partly true because of how many organisations provide video for their audiences, a prime and prolific example being YouTube.

What about the gamesters? It’s true that without Flash, Apple products cannot play Flash games, though Apple will argue that its Apps Store provides plenty of gaming opportunities.

Power Greedy

Jobs had plenty of other reasons for steering clear of Adobe Flash, such as security and reliability. More importantly from Apple’s perspective, Flash is power greedy. Given the challenges that early iPhones had with providing sufficient battery life so users weren’t constantly worrying about battery recharging, it’s understandable why Apple did not want to go down that road—and Jobs always made his power concerns with Flash clear.

In his view, to achieve long battery life when playing video, mobile devices must decode the video in hardware since decoding in software uses too much power. Many mobile devices contain a decoder called H.264, an industry standard used in every Blu-ray DVD player that has been adopted by Apple, Google (YouTube), Vimeo, Netflix, and many other companies.

Although Flash has recently added support for H.264, the video on almost all Flash Web sites currently requires an older-generation decoder that is not implemented in mobile chips and consequently must be run in software that is power greedy.

Fundamental Design Philosophy

So technically the reasons for Apple’s dislike of Flash are plain enough. But Jobs also had a deeply held design philosophy whereby Apple would not let a third-party layer of software position itself between the product it was being used on and the developer of that product. The worry is that if developers grow dependent on third-party software libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features.

Such a situation would potentially stifle the imaginative innovation that is a cornerstone of Apple’s product development. So, it’s reasonable to say that Jobs was right about his concerns over Adobe Flash.

Historically, those concerns are supported by the experience of other mobile developers. Although it may appear advantageous in costs and time-to-market considerations to use third-party software that can be used by major mobile platforms like BlackBerry OS and Android, some developers have found that there can be issues over performance loss on certain apps. For many mobile developers, a broad selection of powerful apps is the name of the game when it comes to signing up new customers.

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