Flash can no longer be seen as a cross-platform solution for delivering multimedia experiences across different screens. Adobe will no longer develop its Flash Player for browsers on mobile and television devices and will concentrate instead on supporting native apps developed with Adobe AIR. The company concedes that HTML5 is the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms.
This represents recognition, vindication or at least a consequence of the opposition to Adobe Flash from Apple, which has instead championed native applications and HTML5 browser based experiences for its iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad. With Microsoft following suit in not supporting Flash in its latest mobile platforms, the prospects for Flash as a solution for delivering across the four screens of the computer, mobile, tablet and television were looking increasingly bleak.
Mike Chambers, the principal product manager for the Flash platform expanded on the official announcement from Adobe. “I want to make it very clear that we are continuing to work on Adobe AIR for mobile applications,” he said. “We will continue to provide critical bug fixes and security updates for existing device configuration, as well as continue to distribute the current player. At the same time, we are further increasing our investment (both in resources and engineers) in HTML5.”
He acknowledged Flash Player was not likely to reach the ubiquity that in the mobile market it had on the desktop, particularly since there was little prospect of it being available on Apple iOS devices.
Furthermore, supporting Flash Player across different mobile hardware devices, operating systems and browsers has proved challenging. “This is something that we realized is simply not scalable or sustainable,” he said.
It is arguable whether the focus on packaging applications with Adobe AIR will be any different, but at least it avoids consideration of differences in browser versions. Adobe AIR incorporates a WebKit browser.
Even the focus on AIR seems ambiguous. Adobe recently purchased a company called Nitobi, which developed software called PhoneGap to wrap browser-based apps in a native package.
“So, just to be very clear, contrary to what many have declared, Flash is not dead,” he said. “As such, we have a long term commitment to the Flash Player on desktops, and are actively working on the next Flash Player version.”
In reality, Flash will continue to be relevant for some time on desktop and laptop computers simply because there will be a long legacy of incompatible browser versions that do not support the latest HTML5 features. Flash can also be used to deliver streaming video with a degree of rights protection. However, Flash can no longer been seen as a de facto standard means to deliver video across different devices.
Pritham Shetty, the vice president of video solutions at Adobe, wrote to point out that the BBC, Hulu, YouTube, ESPN and others use Flash to deliver video. He said that Adobe would continue to focus of currently unsolved problems, like standardized dynamic streaming and digital rights management for HTML5.
“Simply put,” he wrote, “Adobe will continue to apply Flash technology — and all of our knowledge around Flash video — to the same problem Adobe has always solved for customers: reaching audiences across fragmented devices and operating systems.”
The news comes after an announcement that Adobe plans to shed 750 posts, representing more than 7% over the workforce, in a restructure that will cost around $90 million. The company still expects to report revenues of over a billion dollars for the quarter. Adobe plans to focus on creating media authoring products and intends to be a leading provider of solutions to manage, measure and optimise digital marketing and advertising,
The implications of this decision by Adobe are significant, particularly for those that have been relying on Flash to provide user interfaces or to deliver video. That would include YouView in the United Kingdom, which has based its entire user experience on Flash, Virgin Media, which has done much the same with its new TiVo product, and UPC in Europe with its Project Horizon platform.
While Google TV supports Flash, which has been presented as a user benefit, the platform is less dependent upon it and also supports HTML5 and Java applications in its Android operating environment.
For the record, informitv has always expressed reservations about relying on Flash for consumer electronics applications, long before Apple effectively forced the issue, for both technical and business reasons.
This announcement leaves the way forward for developers to use open approaches, such as HTML5 and associated standards, albeit not yet mature or universally supported, to reach the widest possible range of devices and displays.