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Analysis: Adobe sees folly of continuing mobile Flash development

by David Needle

November 9 2011

Adobe is moving on from further development of mobile Flash
Adobe is moving on from further development of mobile Flash

Adobe finally trumped Steve Jobs, but not in the way it might have wanted. The software company’s announcement that it is abandoning further development of Flash for mobile devices is even bigger news than Jobs’ withering “Thoughts on Flash” letter back in April, 2010, where he announced that Apple would no longer support the media development language.

Adobe's decision is a huge deal since so many mobile heavyweights -- Google, RIM and Microsoft to name three -- circled the wagons after Apple’s move to reaffirm their commitment to Flash. 

“The battle for rich media content for mobile devices has raged for several years now between supporters of technologically superior Flash vs. the proponents of the still evolving HTML5 as the wave of the future (most notably Apple),” analyst Jack Gold said in a report to clients. 

Adobe has always said it supports industry standards and has been very involved in HTML5 development even as it continued to work on Flash. The company plans to release the last mobile version, Flash Player 11.1, soon, and is still planning on releasing Flash Player 12.

Gold says Adobe’s move is less about the superiority of the still-evolving HTML5 over Flash, and more about the momentum HTML5 has gained from virtually every significant mobile development firm. Adobe’s success with Flash has also proved a drain on resources, as the company has had to maintain versions of the software for different chipsets and mobile operating systems that require upgrades several times each year

“Adobe has to create and maintain Flash Player for each version of Android, for BlackBerry and PlayBook, and others it supports,” says Gold. “But in the mobile space OS versions and chips change so rapidly, it’s a resource nightmare for them. Keeping Flash on the PC and Mac is trivial (effort-wise) compared to the anarchy in mobile.”

Steve Jobs knew this. In his Thoughts on Flash letter, Jobs said he did not want Apple to continue to have to wait in line behind other vendors for Adobe to fix problem or provide Apple with the latest upgrade. He said in part: 

If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.

“This becomes even worse if the third party is supplying a cross-platform development tool. The third party may not adopt enhancements from one platform unless they are available on all of their supported platforms. Hence developers only have access to the lowest common denominator set of features.” 

Gold also notes that Adobe's recent acquisition of PhoneGap creator Natobi was a move in the HTML5 direction as it gives the company more tools it can provide developers to quickly create HTML5 content supported by most mobile browsers.  

“Adobe just isn’t capable of providing the amount of resources that an open-sourced, standards-based approach [i.e. HTML5] can offer (with potentially millions of contributors/resources),” says Gold. 

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