Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mobile Flash: You Can Thank Apple

Flash fans are talking highly about the upcoming mobile Flash 10.1, and who knows, Adobe may very well deliver a decent solution this time around. The thing people need to realize is if it wasn't for Apple and the popularity of the iPhone OS, this level of mobile Flash optimization probably wouldn't be happening. As we've seen with the quality of Flash (and other apps like Acrobat Pro) on the Mac vs. Windows, it's clear Adobe doesn't spend resources optimizing their software for "less popular" operating systems. The irony is that this lack of interest in the little guy has come back to bite them in the ass.

I'm not sure what sales milestone was hit by the iPhone before it dawned on Adobe that there is a massive threat growing to their Flash business, but we know they see it now. This threat of obscurity/obsolescence has forced them to throw significant weight behind the optimization of mobile Flash. Even though they have very little chance at getting Flash onto the iPhone/iPad, they are still being forced to overhaul their product. Why? Because the iPhone has become the new baseline for mobile devices. If Adobe can't make Flash a "necessity" on competing devices, it's game over. The fact that webkit is quickly becoming the standard rendering engine for mobile browsers means HTML5 will be available to pretty much all mobile users going forward. Web developers won't have to worry about legacy support.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not one of the people who thinks Flash should fall off the face of the earth. It still has it's place (i.e. web games, DRM, etc.), but it's relevance in general video distribution is ending. The thing that sucks for Adobe is that video distribution makes up a HUGE percentage of their Flash business. The only chance Adobe has at stalling this migration away from Flash video is to have a product that competes extremely well. If there is a noticeable difference in quality and performance between Flash and HTML5 video, those non-iPhone users will no-doubt start demanding HTML5 video too. Needless to say, Adobe doesn't want that.

Now, if Apple had allowed Adobe to put Flash on the original iPhone I don't believe this rush for optimization would have taken place. People would have just gotten used to the fact that Flash content more often than not equaled "slideshow", and Adobe's answer to the problem would likely have been "Future processors will be able to handle Flash better …keep upgrading your phones." Not only that, but HTML5 video wouldn't have a near the backing it does now because the content (however shitty it ran) WOULD be available to all these new devices in Flash form. The fact that Apple has several extremely popular products that do not offer Flash support is one of the main reasons HTML5 has become relevant so quickly.