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Adobe Halts Development on Mobile Flash

I don’t think he was ever confused about what to do about the whole dustup between Apple and Adobe over Flash in iOS, but somewhere Steve Jobs is smiling, now that Adobe has officially halted development on the mobile version of Flash. In a blog post, Adobe Vice President and General Manager of Interactive Development Danny Winokur wrote:

“We will no longer continue to develop Flash Player in the browser to work with new mobile device configurations (chipset, browser, OS version, etc.) following the upcoming release of Flash Player 11.1 for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook. We will of course continue to provide critical bug fixes and security updates for existing device configurations. We will also allow our source code licensees to continue working on and release their own implementations.”

This follows a several-year fight with Apple, which refused to allow Flash on iOS, famously resulting in Steve Jobs’s “Thoughts on Flash” letter. In that piece, Jobs lays out Apple’s reasons for avoiding Flash, pointing out that Flash has security, reliability, and performance problems that are troublesome on a desktop computer, but even more concerning on a mobile device. Other notable concerns included a significant reduction in battery life, the fact that many Flash-based sites wouldn’t work properly in a touch-based environment, and Apple’s strategic desire for native iOS apps rather than cross-platform ports.

For users, the dispute was always annoying, since it largely came down to Apple saying “The Flash experience on iOS would be unacceptable” and Adobe saying, “No, it would be fine.” Both companies were trying to promote their respective self-interests — the entire iOS approach to the world in Apple’s case, and Adobe’s hope that Flash could be the underpinning of an increasingly interactive Web. Despite the widespread adoption of Flash and a non-trivial level of outcry from iOS users, Apple stuck to its story and won the day — Adobe’s achievement of putting Flash on Android-based smartphones and tablets (at varying levels of performance) wasn’t enough to overcome Apple’s intransigence.

What can never be known is what Flash’s future would have been if Apple had allowed it on iOS. It’s possible that Apple’s refusal was causal in Flash’s mobile demise — that Flash would have survived and thrived with Apple’s support — but it’s equally possible that Apple was merely prescient and suspected that Flash couldn’t make the architectural and conceptual leap from the mouse-based computer to the touch-based mobile device.

More clear, though, is that Flash in general is on the wane, though Adobe of course disagrees. I don’t believe Flash will go away any time soon, of course, but given that an ever-increasing amount of Internet usage takes place on mobile devices, Adobe’s reversal in that field means that Web designers will start choosing HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, H.264, and other open standards over Flash for interactive content and video. And where the Web designers go, Adobe will follow.

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