Updated: Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen recently told Fox Business News in a video interview that
he expects to see Flash on mobile phones in the second half of this year smartphones will come with Flash 10.1 preinstalled in the second half of 2010. What he didn’t say was that the original plan was to deliver Adobe Flash on webOS handsets in 2009, so it appears that the plans have changed. The concern is that with each passing day Flash isn’t available on a wide range of smartphone platforms, its relevance on handsets decreases, mainly due to Apple’s iPhone OS. Below is the full video interview, although the conversation around Flash is mainly in the second half.
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Whether you agree with Apple’s steadfast refusal to allow Flash on its mobile devices, the lack of Flash doesn’t appear to be hurting Apple device sales. Even without Flash support, Apple recently reported it has sold a total of 50 million iPhones and in only a few days, 500,000 iPads, not to mention a vast number of iPod touch devices. Some consumers do refuse to buy a Flash-less Apple device, but I’d wager that they’re in the minority. Simply put: The lack of Flash on Apple hardware might hurt sales, but not in a meaningful way.
Making matters worse — if you’re Adobe or a fan of Flash, that is — major media outlets aren’t waiting around for Flash on handsets. YouTube began to transcode its video library to support Apple’s iPhone platform in June of 2007. In time for the recent iPad launch, the New York Times adjusted its web site to accommodate the H.264 video codec and HTML5, the still-evolving next generation web protocol that supports video playback without Adobe Flash. CBS is yet another standout example — the network was found testing HTML5 for playback of full television episodes. While it’s true that Flash is still widely used, and probably will be for some time to come, the tremors of a seismic shift away from Flash are now starting to be felt.
Flash faithful are quick to point out that the plug-in is installed on over 95 percent of all computers — with such a large footprint, how could Flash go away? The argument has little merit in this context, because the desktop world is different than the mobile world — a point that may be lost on Adobe. For example, in the Fox interview Narayen attempted to justify the need for Flash by saying it accounts for “70 percent of the casual gaming on the web.” That may be true, but in today’s smartphone app economy, it’s also largely irrelevant. Instead of playing casual games on the mobile web, developers are cranking out software titles and consumers are buying them — there are more than 50,000 games in Apple’s iTunes App Store alone.
Need another example of Adobe being out of touch? Narayen vaguely referenced his own video interview to justify his defense by saying, “[I]f I want to go to Fox Business News or watch a Fox show on my smartphone, I’m going to be capable of doing that on certain devices (with Flash) and not other devices.” While I wouldn’t expect Narayen to know which web sites use Adobe Flash and which don’t, it’s very telling that I watched and heard him say this just fine on my Apple iPad – without Flash.
The one potential saving grace for Adobe right now is Google’s Android platform. It will be among the first mobile platforms to see Flash support and it’s the fastest-growing platform in terms of market share right now. A private beta of Flash 10.1 on Android is now complete and Android device owners can sign up to be notified for the public beta, although no specific time frame on when the beta will begin is available. If Adobe can convince content partners and developers not to abandon Flash just yet, while at the same time making quick progress towards stable Flash support for Android, there’s hope for Flash. Otherwise, the entire Apple vs. Adobe fight could end in a TKO as an expected new iPhone arrives this summer and even more Flash-less mobile devices hit consumer hands.
Update: I asked Adobe for clarification on Shantanu Narayen’s words on the Adobe Flash 10.1 delivery date and updated the post above accordingly. The official statement is of interest in terms of supported platforms and reads:
“Adobe is on track to make the full Flash Player available for first mobile platforms including Android before the end of the first half of 2010. So, if you already own a recent Android device like the Nexus One, you will be able to download and install Flash Player yourself. Ultimately we expect the full Flash Player to be supported on a variety of mobile platforms including Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows Phone 7, webOS and others.”
I’ve asked Adobe specifically what platforms, other than Android, would see Flash 10.1 by the end of the first half of this year, but have not received an answer to that question as of yet. If I receive a response, I’ll provide another update to the post.
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