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Steve’s Last Laugh: Adobe Killing Off Flash For Mobile Devices

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The year was 2008. I was at an event focused on mobile, sitting in on a roundtable discussion with several folks from key companies in the industry. One gentleman was from Adobe. The iPhone had launched the previous year, famously without any support for Flash. A lot of folks were up in arms about this — including several at this table. The guy from Adobe assured everyone: mobile Flash would be coming soon. And it was going to be wonderful. The notion that Apple wouldn’t include it on the iPhone because of performance issues was pure hogwash.

The same thing was said in 2009.

The same thing was said in 2010.

The same thing was still being said in 2011.

So you’ll forgive me when I snicker a bit at the news tonight that Adobe plans to cease development of their Flash player for mobile devices. Jason Perlow has the scoop for ZDNet, and it’s a doozy. Here’s the apparent forthcoming announcement from Adobe on the matter:

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 adapt Flash Player for mobile devices to new browser, OS version or device configurations. Some of our source code licensees may opt to continue working on and releasing their own implementations. We will continue to support the current Android and PlayBook configurations with critical bug fixes and security updates.

This announcement, along with talk of a focus on HTML5, should be out in the next day or so, according to Perlow. Yes, Adobe is ending their efforts to get Flash onto mobile devices.

But again, that’s odd, since all we’ve heard out of the company for the past 3+ years was either how mobile Flash was coming, or how it was just about to be perfected. While it did finally come — in June 2010 for Android — it was far from perfect. That’s putting it nicely. Put less nicely, it sucked.

The technology on mobile devices was never ready for primetime. As Harry McCracken put it this past February: Mobile Flash: Always Exciting, Always Not Quite Here Yet. In that post, McCracken noted that Motorola was touting full Flash support as a big selling point of their then-new Xoom tablet. But there was an asterisk. Flash would not ship with the device itself. It would come later. It would always come later.

Things got really heated in April 2010, when Steve Jobs took to Apple’s website to write a missive against Flash. Simply titled, Thoughts on Flash, Jobs destroyed the technology in 1,700 or so words. Perhaps most damning were his thoughts on mobile Flash in particular. The key parts:

  • “In addition, Flash has not performed well on mobile devices. We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it.”
  • “Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010. We think it will eventually ship, but we’re glad we didn’t hold our breath.”

This letter prompted an ill-advised advertising campaign (which they ran all over the web, even on TechCrunch) by Adobe in which they proclaimed: “We Love Apple”. It was transparent and lame. Worse, it was just about the weakest response possible. Adobe didn’t address any of the issues Jobs brought up. They tried to be cute. They brought an advertisement to a gun fight, as I noted at the time.

When pressed, Adobe would only call Jobs’ dismissing of Flash “a smokescreen“. And they would continue to promise that the technology would soon be perfected. Better, Adobe’s platform evangelist summed up his feelings with: “Go Screw Yourself Apple“.

It’s sad that Jobs is no longer with us to see this day. But the truth is that he probably didn’t need to see it — he knew he was right. In his post, he outlined the need for a move towards technologies like HTML5, and now that’s exactly where Adobe is heading.

Steve gets the last laugh.