A Humbled Adobe Sees Beyond The Browser

I can’t help chortling a little in Schadenfreude at Adobe’s expected announcement that it is abandoning Flash for mobile devices. For most of the past two years, the anti-iPad contingent has cited flash incompatibility as the primary reason they weren’t going to give Apple their money yet the devices they did back – the Xoom, the Notion Ink Adam, the Playbook, and the like – all shipped with buggy or non-existent flash implementations. But I will not chortle, friends, because this is some serious stuff.

First, I want to say Flash wasn’t a bad idea for mobile. It would have been amazing in the early years of the smartphone revolution. It was comfortable, familiar, and a great way to get app-like functionality onto phones that might not have been powerful or popular enough for a real development platform. However, it was never implemented in a way that added value and what value it had value really peaked a few years ago and has progressively dropped over the past few months. If I’m to pick nits, I’d like to show this video from Lee Owen.


The native iOS application, as you see, worked smoothly and seamlessly. The Android/Flash implementation, on the other hand, exhibited lag, touch insensitivity, and a general “wrong-ness” that disturbs the purists out there. This is obviously evidence of Android’s “familiar lag” but it also part of Flash’s problem: all of the things people wanted to do in Flash, barring viewing web video (an activity that is better in dedicated apps anyway) – play Flash games, view flash animations (why?), and, I assume, see Flash advertisements – are poorly served by these laggy implementations. Flash made Flash look bad.

Adobe never got mobile Flash right but even as they claimed injury at Steve Jobs’ mean comments, they were probably already moving past the issue internally. The depth of that move is now public. In their statement, it’s clear that they’d rather have Flash and Air exist as standalone apps rather than an add-on. They want center stage on your device, not playing second fiddle to someone else’s browser:

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.

These changes will allow us to increase investment in HTML5 and innovate with Flash where it can have most impact for the industry, including advanced gaming and premium video. Flash Player 11 for PC browsers just introduced dozens of new features, including hardware accelerated 3D graphics for console-quality gaming and premium HD video with content protection. Flash developers can take advantage of these features, and all that our Flash tooling has to offer, to reach more than a billion PCs through their browsers and to package native apps with AIR that run on hundreds of millions of mobile devices through all the popular app stores, including the iTunes App Store, Android Market, Amazon Appstore for Android and BlackBerry App World.

You’ll also note that they want Flash to run high-end 3D games and other rich content, a possibility that is truncated by Flash in the browser. By going in this direction, they create two interconnected tracks – the direct to PC track and the direct to mobile track. Each track would presumably start at the same point and the differences in coding and development would be trivial, allowing an Adobe user to make a rich app on the desktop and the mobile device at the same time.

Apple didn’t win this battle – if it even was a battle. Instead, Adobe ceded ground to the future in hopes of surviving another decade as the go-to tool maker for creative professionals. It’s fun to think that Steve Jobs had a hand in this, humiliating big bad Adobe with his Zen trickster techniques. However, it’s clear that Adobe is a business in crisis and that posturing doesn’t pay the bills.

[Image: Brett Mulcahy/Shutterstock]