One year after iPad: Is Adobe Flash still relevant?

A year after the introduction of the Apple iPad, is Adobe's Flash platform still relevant on mobile devices and the Web?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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 canbe 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.

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