Adobe: Apple helped push us into dropping Flash

A veteran Flash evangelist from Adobe has explicitly said that Apple's refusal to allow Flash into the iOS browser was a major factor in the plug-in technology being dropped from mobile devices
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Adobe has explicitly cited Apple's refusal to include Flash support in its iPhone and iPad browsers as a reason for the technology's demise.

Flash Player 10.1

Adobe's Flash lies behind many content delivery platforms, such as BBC's iPlayer for mobile. Photo credit: David Meyer

In a blog post on Friday, Adobe Flash developer relations chief Mike Chambers said Apple's intransigence on the matter has reduced Flash's chances of becoming a widespread platform for in-browser mobile apps. Another major factor was the rise of HTML5, he noted, on which Adobe is now placing a stronger focus.

"Given the fragmentation of the mobile market, and the fact that one of the leading mobile platforms (Apple's iOS) was not going to allow the Flash Player in the browser, the Flash Player was not on track to reach anywhere near the ubiquity of the Flash Player on desktops," Chambers said.

Keeping Flash out of the iPhone's browser was a long-running crusade for Steve Jobs. The Apple chief said in April 2010 that Flash was unstable and, worse, not an open web standard. He touted HTML5 as the alternative, saying Adobe should "focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticising Apple for leaving the past behind".

A year-and-a-half later, Chambers said those who want to create a successful web app that uses mobile Flash still have to build an HTML5 version as well.

"Given the strong support for HTML5 across modern mobile devices, it simply made more sense to create an HTML5-based solution," Chambers noted. "Just to be very clear on this. No matter what we did, the Flash Player was not going to be available on Apple's iOS anytime in the foreseeable future."

Chambers laid out where Adobe is going to put its efforts in the future. On the handset, the company will focus on HTML5 in the browser and AIR for standalone apps. "Expressive content" such as games and video will continue to run in Flash on the desktop, where it is widely used. 

However, he also stressed that HTML5 was not the answer for things such as "advanced video content". This chimes with Adobe's work in the last year or two to ensure that developers could stream Flash video to iOS devices by using a workaround that involves the Apple-derived HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) format.

"On mobile devices, HTML5 provides a similar level of ubiquity that the Flash Player provides on the desktop," Chambers added. "Our goal has always been to obtain the same level of ubiquity for the Flash Player on mobile browsers, but, at the end of the day, it is something that did not, and was not going to happen."

The Adobe engineer also noted how many resources had been needed for maintaining the mobile Flash Player, due to having to work with a variety of operating system vendors, phone manufacturers and component firms such as Nvidia.

"For each new device, browser and operating system released, the resources required to develop, test and maintain the Flash Player also increases," Chambers wrote. "This is something that we realised is simply not scalable or sustainable."


Flash on handsets

Adobe's decision to stop rolling out new versions of the Flash plug-in for mobile browsers does not mean Flash is dead on handsets. Indeed, Flash apps can still be packaged in Adobe's AIR wrapper to run independently on a variety of mobile platforms including Android, BlackBerry and Apple's iOS.


Chambers pointed out in his post that people do not generally look for apps on the mobile web; they looks for them in app stores. He said this "means that there is not as much need or demand for the Flash Player on mobile devices as there is on the desktop".

He added it makes more sense for Adobe to continue investing in AIR, as developers are making successful apps with it. "We have seen wide adoption of Adobe AIR for creating mobile applications, and there have been a number of blockbuster mobile applications created using Adobe AIR," he wrote.

Meanwhile, on Thursday RIM said it would continue to support developers who have created Flash-based apps for the BlackBerry platform.

"As an Adobe source-code licensee, we have a lot of leverage through our own integration and support of Adobe Flash and will continue to provide our desktop-class Flash experience to our customers," RIM developer relations chief Alec Saunders said in a blog post. "On its end, Adobe will continue to support the current BlackBerry PlayBook tablet configuration."

Saunders added that RIM was "delighted to be aligned with Adobe" on the idea of HTML5 being "the future of mobile".

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