Analysts: Flash to prevail against competition

update Adobe Flash faces onslaught of trends threatening to remove it as defacto rich-media Web platform, but developer support will keep it at the top.

update Adobe Flash is facing an onslaught of up-and-coming alternatives that threaten to dethrone the former as the defacto rich-media platform online, but analysts says developer support will help ensure Flash keeps its crown.

One threat on the rise has been HTML5, which has been lauded by Web standard proponents for offering an option to Flash as a delivery mechanism for rich-media content. HTML5 makes provision for embedding native audio and video content within pages, which today typically employ Flash instead as a container.

The launch of Apple's iPad, which does not support Flash, has also heated up the debate on whether the Adobe platform is in danger of losing developers to competing alternatives.

Bruce Lawson, Web standards evangelist for browser maker Opera Software, has said HTML5 is close to replacing Flash, and that the Web should not be in the hands of a single vendor.

Tony Baer, senior software analyst at Ovum, said in an e-mail interview: "To steal a quote from Mark Twain, Flash's 'death has been exaggerated'." But, he noted that Flash faces a more uncertain future, as compared to its past.

Baer explained that the iPhone's lack of support for Flash will not kill off mobile Flash because there is no ubiquitous rich framework across the fragmented mobile scene in the first place--including Flash.

As for the iPad, it may be a game changer--if consumers flock to it, he said. "If the iPad takes off, it will be a clear threat to Flash."

However, Mike Lee, consultant at Frost & Sullivan, believes the format will continue to thrive, thanks to the developer community, aided by Adobe's efforts to extend its presence there.

For one, not all browsers support the use of proprietary video codec H.264--commonly deployed by video sites such as YouTube--which is embedded in HTML5, said Lee. Mozilla Firefox, for example, has said it will not support the video codec, he said.

Firefox renders HTML5 sites but does not display videos coded in H.264.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer does not officially support HTML5, either, although it is capable of rendering the markup language through a Google-sponsored Chrome plugin, he added.

While Web languages such as HTML5 and Ajax, are helping to build more interactivity into sites, Flash is still the main developing platform for game developers, he added.

"There is no alternative platform yet, for [building] these interactive games other than Flash," said Lee. "Flash is a complementary technology to Web standards and will continue to maintain that status."

Baer said HTML5 is not ready for prime time, but could emerge as a powerful alternative to Flash eventually. It first needs to mature, especially with regard to security, analytics and codec support, he said.

The industry's big players also need to align behind it. This would only happen if Apple promoted HTML5 in its mobile devices, and Microsoft "conceding that Silverlight has not caught [up with] Flash and puts its weight behind HTML5", Baer noted.

He added that Microsoft's clout was seen in a similar Web standards debate with Dynamic HTML (DHTML), where the software giant's backing resulted in the success of DHTML over Java applets in Web pages.

Janie Lim, Adobe Systems' group marketing manager for Southeast Asia, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that HTML5 and Flash are not competing technologies. "We see HTML as a natural evolution for the Web... Support for HTML5 in our tools is sure to grow as the specification matures."

Lim added that Adobe's Open Screen Project is an effort at addressing the fragmented mobile space by boosting Flash's profile as a cross-device platform. "[This], in the long run, will prove to be more important than specific features or capabilities," she said.

Adobe's Open Screen Project was launched in May 2008, with the aim to reach out to mobile vendors and broaden the use of Flash within their devices. Players such as Nokia, Nvidia and Palm, have come out in support of Flash Player.

Lim said developers can also look to the release of Flash Player 10.1 on mobile devices as a way of extending their applications on more devices. Flash Player's browser-based runtime will also allow app makers to reuse code and assets, she said.

Adobe hopes its new version of mobile Flash will help reach out to more developers, by offering more native device controls. Capabilities such as multi-touch and accelerometer input will be built into the Flash runtime, she said.

Adobe's bid to retain developers
Frost & Sullivan's Lee said efforts on Adobe's part to court developer loyalty will ensure it stays the platform of choice.

For one, Adobe stepped up earlier this month with a promise to provide better performance on Mac systems, following criticism that Flash causes Macs to crash.

Adobe will also release a tool it calls Packager for iPhone, in the second quarter of this year, which it said will allow app makers to publish their Flash-based wares on the iPhone--and by extension, the upcoming iPad tablet.

Already, Wired magazine on Tuesday showed off its reader app on Adobe Air, which it plans to publish on the Cupertino platforms with the packager tool.

According to Lee, Adobe gets its main source of revenue by selling its software to production houses and designers. "They know that these designers want to target devices like the iPad."

He said the packager tool is likely to help ensure designers stay happy. "This will keep designers who are using Flash happy, so they will maintain loyalty to Flash."

The tool also allows developers to publish to other devices that support Flash, such as Google Android-based mobile devices and other tablets, he noted.

He did add that the Adobe Packager may not attract developers already on the iPhone's SDK, over to Flash, since the packager tool is meant primarily to mitigate the threat of developers moving away from Adobe, he said.

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