One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

Summary: A year after the introduction of the Apple iPad, is Adobe's Flash platform still relevant on mobile devices and the Web?

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A year after the introduction of the iPad, is Adobe's Flash platform still relevant on mobile devices and the Web?

On April 29, 2010, only two months after the launch of the first iPad and not long after the device became generally available, Apple CEO Steve Jobs published his Open Letter, entitled "Thoughts on Flash".

In the span of that one year since that letter was published, more than 14 million iPads have been sold, and a new model, the iPad 2, has already been experiencing very brisk sales, selling out in Apple stores and other major retail locations. The smartphone sibling to the iPad, the iPhone 4 has also been selling in record numbers worldwide.

A year after Steve Jobs' letter, Apple's policy in regards to Flash compatibility on the iOS platform remains the same -- there will be no Flash on the devices, period.

I'm not sure given the huge success of the iPad and the iPhone that I can really tear apart Thoughts on Flash from a pure business perpective at this juncture. A year ago, many of us had some doubts that the iPad would be able to penetrate the the market with a clear abscence of such an important web standard built into the device. We were wrong.

Also Read: Technology of the Year, Apple's iPad

Clearly, despite which many critics in and outside the tech industry regarded as the device's prime limitation (myself included at the time) the products have been doing exceptionally well.

This hasn't stopped of course the various industry competitors from coming out with Flash-compatibile devices. Adobe has continued to develop Flash 10.2 for Android, first releasing for Froyo (2.2) and Gingerbread (2.3) smartphones and recently for Honeycomb (3.0) tablets.

This was also followed by a release of Abobe AIR 2.x on Android for deploying stand-alone Flash apps as well.

But the software on Android hasn't been without its problems. Many Android phones currently on the market and the first crop of Froyo-based tablets aren't really powerful enough to run Flash-enabled web pages effectively.

While Flash "runs" it tends to bog down the OS, and many Android smartphone users turn the plugin off unless specific content needs to be viewed.

Steve Jobs' predictions on how Flash would affect the mobile experience have effectively turned out to be correct.

On the more powerful, dual-core Honeycomb tablets, such as on the Motorola XOOM, Flash tends to contribute to the OS's overall instability, and noticeably slows down browsing.

However, much of these Flash-related performance and stability issues on Android can be traced to the lack of openness Google has had with Adobe in being able to effectively develop an efficient plug-in for their platform.

Sources close to Adobe cite difficulty in working with the company in getting updated builds of OS source code and working with internal developers at Google to optimize the runtime for the platform.

Indeed, Adobe has proven that when it can work intimately with a vendor, such as with Research in Motion, whose application development strategy for the PlayBook at launch is 100 percent dependent on Adobe's AIR and Flash technologies until other native QNX SDKs and "Players" are released, that the company is capable of demonstrating excellent performance with the Flash and AIR runtimes as both stand-alone tablet apps and embedded into a Mobile browser.

So Jobs, at least from a technical standpoint in his open letter from last year is only partially correct. Flash runs sucky on mobile hardware and on the Mac only because Apple refuses to spend the time and due diligence with Adobe to fully optimize it correctly.

Unfortunately, as I have noted earlier, Google is also 100 percent guilty of this as well.

As a BlackBerry PlayBook user myself, I've seen firsthand that Flash and AIR as a application development platform as well as a content delivery mechanism does work, and it can be made to work well. Surprisingly well, even.

Of course, there aren't enough AIR apps on PlayBook that really make a good demo of with the platform, nor is there one notable PlayBook AIR app that really stands out yet. Heck, there's no AIR app on Android that really stands out yet, and the runtime has been available on that platform for quite a while.

[Update: Research in Motion has announced on May 2nd, 2011 the forthcoming availability of FaceBook for PlayBook, as well as a video chat application which are both written in Adobe AIR.]

A year after the first iPad launch, and a month after the general availability of iPad 2, is Flash still relevant?

Certainly, on the iOS platform, and as an iPad 2 user, I do not feel any lack for Flash. Virtually every web site imaginable has moved to HTML5 H.264-based encoding of embedded video. YouTube itself has also fully optimized itself for Mobile Safari and iOS.

A similar thread on Quora discussing the relevance of Flash has some dissenting opinion on this matter worth reading.

There are a few sites that use SWF-only players and that will not work, but they are becoming fewer and far between because they don't want to keep such an important platform as iOS from being able to view videos. And overall when browsing on my Android phone, I find more HTM5-based video content than I do Flash.

And do I really care if my advertisements are Flash-based or not? I'd rather my ads not be animated and interactive at all, especially on my smartphone or my tablet. Static JPEGs and animated GIF/PNG files are just fine.

Flash, of course, is not just a video standard, it's also an embedded application standard, particularly in the context of platforms like AIR.

In terms of the AIR apps I use on the desktop everyday, there's only one that comes to mind, and that's TweetDeck.

I use it on my Mac now because I was experiencing a number of stability issues that was causing my main Linux workstation to crash. I can't say it's the most stable thing in the universe on my Mac either, but it's never taken the entire UI down like it has on Linux.

I will say this -- if I can find a better Twitter client for Mac, I will. I just haven't found anything that can do everything TweetDeck Desktop Edition does just yet. Frankly, I'm surprised TweetDeck, the ne plus ultra of Twitter apps hasn't been ported to RIM's PlayBook. It would seem like a fairly academic exercise to me, since it is written in Adobe AIR.

I do acknowledge there are still people that run stuff like FarmVille on FaceBook as well as any number of other Flash-based games. But a lot of these Social Media-enabled games have already been "Appifyed" for iOS and Android, so the need to launch it in a browser view has become less of a concern.

One year after Thoughts on Flash, and the Flash-less iPad is selling like hotcakes. Android is a smartphone smash pretty much without Flash, and as a tablet player, its got big half-bakedness concerns to contend with on Honeycomb let alone worry about Flash stability and performance at this juncture.

I'm not convinced that Flash compatibility on our smartphone and tablet platforms, let alone on the desktop web is something that we really need to be concerned about going forward. Most of us seem to be getting along without it just fine.

And that should worry Adobe a great deal.

A year after "Thoughts on Flash" have your views on Flash compatibility in iOS and Android changed? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: iPad, Apple, Enterprise Software, Mobility

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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328 comments
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  • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

    In the last year, I was forced to make use of the flash environment as it was the only one with certain mature features. Before this, I had never touched it as I am not a fan of proprietary technology.

    Because of the fairly advanced requirements and performance needs, I need to benchmark Flash Player on desktop environments before starting. I was shocked to discover Flash Player 10+ performed very efficiently. It was also amazingly stable. There are some programming structures, which the compiler produces inefficient byte code for, but the Flash Player interpreter was not the problem. It was also very easy to write bad code and cause instability, but I found none with properly written code.

    I am no fan of Adobe, but I think they are much the same as most other software companies out there. Unless there is competition, they don't put much effort into the quality and performance of their products. In the last 2 years, Javascript performance from all vendors has had 2 orders of magnitude of performance increases. The only way this kind of performance improvement can happen is if the older versions were very poorly done.

    I at least have some respect for Actionscript and Flash Player performance on the desktop. The Actionscript language is not bad as far as object oriented languages go. I find some of the ways they do things as a little strange and it takes a while to get used to. I wonder if these reports of stability and performance issues on mobile platforms are based on well written code, a result of the immaturity of the mobile version of Flash Player or based on the fact a lot of Flash programmers are not good programmers.
    BrianS10
    • Yet even freshest Flash dies regularly on my W7-32 with latest updated

      @BrianS10: so it is not that stable at all.
      DDERSSS
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @denisrs

        I started with an Ipad now I have both an IPad and a Xoom. The Ipad is getting dusty for I never use it. The Xoom with flash is all I need. without flash you are locked out of 40% of the business side internet using flash
        rparker009
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @rparker009 <br>I agree completely, you have to have flash to view 85% of the webpages for company I work for, inter and intra. In addition, before I had flash on my HTC Evo I could not visit the websites for any of my personal or business banks or credit card accounts
        aiellenon
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @denisrs Try actually reading. Not what he is saying.
        RepublicOfDuh
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @denisrs

        Seriously? I don't think you ever owned an Ipad. Can you name those 40% business sites?
        TH20
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @TH20
        Go dig those on your own - they exist.
        I work for a global company and almost all of our pages use flash in some fashion (think Fortune 100). One of our competitors I recently did some ERP benchmarking with uses flash heavily for their inter/intra.....

        Try using an iPad next to a pc and do some general browsing - you might be surprised on what you don't see on iOS....

        ;)
        rhonin
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @TH20
        Go dig those on your own - they exist.
        I work for a global company and almost all of our pages use flash in some fashion (think Fortune 100). One of our competitors I recently did some ERP benchmarking with uses flash heavily for their inter/intra.....

        Try using an iPad next to a pc and do some general browsing - you might be surprised on what you don't see on iOS....

        ;)
        rhonin
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @denisrs

        You mean those animated advertisements that block your view until you click on them? Can't say I miss that. As for searching for myself, I have, and don't know what you are referring to. Certainly the Ipad is not a laptop replacement, but the perception that you are missing out on a lot of content is a big misconception perpetrated by the competition, because this is the only marketing advantage they can come up with.
        TH20
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @TH20

        I think the point is that for those that depend on certain sites a large number of them are inaccessible except via Flash. There is no reason that the list of sites I tend to visit should be the same as another or even yours. You many not have many (or even any) sites that use Flash, but others may and the percentage of those sites will vary accordingly.
        Xennex1170
      • @rhonin - its not just about Enterprise

        @rhonin, while you work at a Fortune 100, my wife is in Web Development at a Fortune 50 ... and they've added iOS compatibility to their requirements lists.<br><br>In any case, there's really two issues here. The first is if there's different use cases between Enterprise and the general consumer public. That's a very obvious slam-dunk.<br><br>The second issue is more basic: is Adobe Flash really a Web Standard? The answer is that it is "No". Flash is a defacto one, but it remains a *Proprietary* product with no Standards Board oversight.<br><br>And to further muddy the waters, Adobe actively seeks to bypass APIs in order to talk to hardware directly in order to gain more performance (and less battery-sucking). This is why Flash runs faster on Windows than OS X. <br><br>Now this is a very old programmer's trick, but it is also the fundamental reason why it is invariably less secure and less stable: the OS's sandboxing of Applications has been purposefully circumvented.<br><br><br>-hh
        -hh
    • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

      @BrianS10 Flash isn't efficient on desktops either. It causes the fan on both my PC workstation and my Mac laptop to immediately start to heat up and spin. Don't be stupid.
      kent42
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @kent42
        Suggest you look at other settings and avoid name calling.
        The only pc in my household with this issue is my wife's Vaio - it turned out to be a Sony custom software setting....
        rhonin
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @kent42
        I agree. Flash, regardless of release, is a hog on my I7 laptop with tons of memory.
        DON'T WANT ANIMATION. Don't want another "application" with security holes. Already have enough of them ;-)
        I run flashblocker, and my computer runs great.
        And, btw, I stay away from sites using flash.
        Word to the wise.
        radu.m
      • So - you can be stupid, and no one else can? Fans dont heat up. Fanboys do.

        @kent42
        dbCon
    • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

      @BrianS10 I agree that Flash is a necessary evil until something better comes along.

      Regarding the article, I would say that the iPad is irrelevant to whether we need Flash, not the other way around. People who use an iPad simply put up with the lack of Flash. They don't view it as a feature. A large percentage of commercial sites use Flash. People who browse using iPads must find a "real" computer in order to access that content. Until there is a more efficient replacement AND it is in widespread use, we will need Flash viewing on our devices in order to make them truly complete browsing devices.

      Personally, the primary reason I never bought an iPad, and the primary reason I will likely buy an Android tablet later this year rather than an iPad is specifically lack of Flash support. (Crap cameras, low screen resolution, limited connectivity, and other drawbacks also contribute.)
      BillDem
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @BillDem <br>You are correct on every point. I think about selling my iPad 2 every day, but now that I've used the iPad 2 with a Logitech Keyboard Case for iPad 2, I've realized that tablets really need a keyboard. If I replace it, I'll probably just buy a good netbook with Flash, easy printing, USB ports, a mouse, and a lower price.
        Photog7
      • Battery Life Is the iPad Killer Feature

        @photog7

        I tend to agree, but most netbooks can't compete with the iPad in terms of battery life. That is the real advantage to the device as far as I can tell.

        I still have no use for one because it has no USB host, no SD card (or other flash memory) slots, and no MSC transfer mode. That leaves only the network and iTunes to transfer data. It also means there is no storage expandability or easy way of swapping out large data stores.

        Some of the new ARM based smartbooks are finally interesting pieces of technology to me. Of course, I not only don't mind running Linux on these devices, I actually prefer it. Perhaps some would rather put up with the iPad's shortcomings, or an Atom based netbook's worse performance/battery life ratio.
        CFWhitman
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @photog7
        Yes, I also believe a keyboard is necessary for tablets.. Look into the Android OS based ASUS eee Transformer that came out recently. It has Flash support and optional keyboard that will make it a netbook equivalent with up to 16hrs of power when used together. $399 for the tablet, $150 for the keyboard dock.

        @CFWhitman

        You'll be interested to know that the ASUS tablet I mention above will more than compete with any iPad in terms of battery life when combined with the keyboard dock. slots for SD cards, USB ports, and 10 finger touch screen support.
        Xennex1170
      • RE: One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

        @BillDem
        Ugh, try making use of NFL.com without it. Flash and iTunes are why I'm waiting on an viable (IMO) Android replacement for my iPad 1. I'm hoping that Amazon delivers one soon.
        jxh11215