Why Mobile Flash Died: An Adobe Employee Speaks Out

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Adobe’s mobile Flash efforts have recently gone the way of the western black rhino, and Principal Product Manager Mike Chambers isn’t too pleased with how the Adobe chose to break the news. In fact, he feels so strongly about it that he’s offered up his own clarifications on the matter.

“Our goal was to be very clear about WHAT we were doing, but in doing so, we didn’t pay enough attention to explaining WHY we were doing it,” he said on his blog today. Fair enough — the official Adobe announcement was pretty abrupt. So, now that everyone’s settled down a bit, why did Adobe really pull the plug?

Well, for one thing, Adobe realized that Flash would never reach the same kind of ubiquity in the smartphone space that its enjoys on PCs. Adobe’s own statistics indicate that the company’s Flash Player is installed on a staggering 99% of all Internet-enabled PCs. Meanwhile, their smartphone penetration numbers were considerably less impressive.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, the iPhone played a crucial role here. With Steve Jobs and company having fully turned their backs on Flash, further attempts by Adobe to push Flash onto other smartphones would mean that developers would have to craft online experiences for two opposing tribes. That’s where Adobe’s focus on HTML5 comes in.

Mobile browsers have grown to be incredibly savvy in recent years, a far cry from the dumbed-down WAP views we previously had to deal with. Considering that most major mobile browsers pack support for HTML5, trying to shoehorn Flash into the mobile content mix is fighting an uphill battle. According to Chambers, “on mobile devices HTML5 provides a similar level of ubiquity that the Flash Player provides on the desktop. It is the best technology for creating and deploying rich content to the browser across mobile platforms.”

There’s also the issue of how users consume content on their devices. Smartphone users have the concept of “apps” drilled into their heads before they can even take their phones home, so it’s no surprise that they’ll turn to their respective app stores if they want to play a game. I sincerely doubt that average customers knew (or cared) that their devices played well with Flash, save for a few highly specialized circumstances.

Lastly, it was a simple matter of manpower. Adobe has been a fan of HTML5 for quite a while now, and it’s stronger position in the mobile space has become more and more apparent. Rather than devote time and energy to working on a platform that 1) needed to be tweaked for different OSs and hardware configurations and 2) would never be as widely-used as they would like, Adobe decided that those resources would be better spent furthering HTML5 development.

So, there we have it. Mobile Flash died a quiet death, which is perhaps fitting because it never made much of a splash while it was alive. Here’s to Adobe moving on to bigger and better things.