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Summary:

Adobe still plans to deliver Flash 10.1 on mobile devices — CEO Shantanu Narayen says that smartphones need it and will see Flash in the second half of this year. Ironically, Narayen argued Flash’s relevance in a video interview that works just fine on an iPad.

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.

Watch the latest business video at video.foxbusiness.com

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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By Kevin C. Tofel

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  1. i agree

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  2. Adobe must build its own mobile phone to compete, the hardware control times returned until a generic [pc like] mobile phone appear.

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    1. Bastian Nutzinger Monday, April 19, 2010

      There won’t ever be such a thing as a “generic [pc like] mobile phone”. The hardware/software tie in has far to many benefits over the generic approach (for the vast majority of casual users, not for the professionals).
      In fact I strongly believe that instead of the generic coming to the mobile world it is far more likely that the “Apple way” will dominate the desktop world sooner or later

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      1. Do you mean in less than five, ten years? at that time multitouch, gpu/cpu, hd will be commodities. Do you remember the zillion of home computers in the 80s?

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  3. Bastian Nutzinger Monday, April 19, 2010

    Well for a content provider the choice essentially boils down to this:
    Have videos in flash on some devices or have video in html5 on any device?
    The only reason why not every video is available in html5 right now is historical, meaning: every new video service will probably have html5 from the beginning and everybody who uses flash nowadays will eventually switch to html5 sooner then later.
    What often gets overlooked is the simple fact, that you don’t need a majority/monopoly to render a standard useless. A standard only remains a standard as long as 100% of all devices support it. 90% and it’s not a standard anymore.

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    1. Well said, Bastian!

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    2. Precisely, HTML5 will slaughter Adobe, it’s just a matter of time.

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    3. “everybody who uses flash nowadays will eventually switch to html5″

      Not if they’re an animator.

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      1. Why not?
        SVG (+SMIL) could replace Flash vector graphics animation (if that is the kind of animation you refer to) and afaik its part of html5

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  4. Kevin, flash on mobile makes sense. Skyfire browser on WinMo can do it from server side.The quality was not great, but it gave complete web experience. Do we have the apps on iPhone/BB/Android …. platforms that cover the millions of websites ? I highly doubt. With mobile flash, the existing content can be used without the need to rewrite the website code. However the transition to HTML5 will take more than five years. So we have no choice but use flash.

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    1. Why does Flash on mobiles make sense? Feeling that we have no choice but use Flash isn’t an answer to that question. ;)

      Yes, you’re correct to point out all of the Flash content out there today. But my point is that content producers are already beginning to move away from Flash because they’re looking to the future while Adobe is attempting to get to the present on mobiles.

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    2. I’m not sure if an average person who is non tech-savvy is concern with complete web experience or are they more concern with complete app experience? The success of iPhone or even Android-based phone may mean the later.

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  5. Unsubscribed GigaOM network RSS feeds. Bye bye.

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    1. You want a cookie or something?

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    2. Oh muffin. Do you do this to every RSS feed that has an opinion you don’t agree with?

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  6. The problem with flash on mobile is that user interfaces aren’t standard. On PCs, everyone has a keyboard and mouse. On mobile platforms, you have so many different interfaces, how do you account for each? Some have keyboards, some are fully touch based, some have trackballs. Granted, most people want flash mainly to watch videos, but everyday that they delay the release is another day that major websites will be moving over to HTML 5.

    It doesn’t surprise me that Adobe has delayed the release. It’s a very difficult problem to solve. In the end, I doubt that flash will gain much acceptance on mobile. Adobe simply missed the boat in this one.

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    1. Yes indeed it is an insanely difficult problem.
      And it is an unsolvable problem by design. Supposed you get all the neccessary coding done to make every possible flash app work beatifully fast and realiable on every mobile handset (which in itself is a almost impossible task) there is still the design problem. Any application written on this Cross-Platform framework will have to adhere to the lowest common demoninator. Have one handset that doesn’t support GPS? well no GPS for your app. Have one handset that doesn’t support multitasking? No multitasking for your app. And even if you can design around theese problems your applikation will never feel native to any of the handsets because your app can only have one design but there are many different design guidelines for the different handhelds.

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  7. 50 million iPhones, 500,000 iPads? After all the Apple overhype? Underwhelming really. At the same time, just netbooks alone, 30 million last year. And 90 million Windows 7 copies sold in just a few months of its shipment. Machines that can run Flash is different than the the iPhone OS iToys- Flash-capable devices, there a whole lot more of them. And here comes Android. And Flash is bundled in the Google Chrome browser downloads, by the way. I know, Apple, you’re happy to continue be the iTrinket of choice of your usual niche, affluent fans living in the Steve Jobs’ Walled Garden Reality Distortion Field.

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    1. Geez Tim, did you miss the whole point of the article? The point was the mobile platform is different than the desktop one, so using desktop numbers to support flash dominance is wrong. You must be caught in Narayen’s distortion field. Every example you gave was for the desktop.

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    2. Tim, your data sounds accurate, but what do netbooks or Windows licenses have to do with mobile handsets?

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    3. Well this is really an Apples to oranges comparison.
      But i’ll play along.
      If the iPad sold 500K units in one week in one country alone how many will there be sold if:
      - 1 year passes?
      - The much anticipated 3G models will be available?
      - The iPad will be available internationally?
      I think it is not entirely imposibble, that the iPad alone will sell 30M units given a year internationally. That would make it by far the most dominant single platform in the UMPC space. Even if Apple “only” sells half that many units the iPad would claim that title easily.

      And even if they get nowhere close theese numbers. As i wrote before Apple doesn’t have to dominate the market to obliterate Flashs standing as a standard. 10% Market share is plenty enough.

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      1. LOL 30 Million in a year?!?! You’re joking right?

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      2. @Mike:
        Actually no.
        I don’t think Apple is actually going to sell 30M units/year I’m just saying its not entirely impossible.
        A very (very) simple calculation:
        A year has 52 weeks. If Apple would continue to sell 500K units / week that would amount to: 26M / year.
        Of course it’s unlikely that Apple will sell that many units every week. After the initial rush it is to be expected that sales numbers drop. On the other hand: there is still a international release pending which will without doubt drastically increase sales numbers and we still don’t have any numbers on the iPad 3G yet. I think this could even out the drop from the initial figures resulting in average sales figures of 500K /week again.
        This is of course just guesswork and i want to stress that im not predicting any actual sales numbers just trying to give a sense of scale.
        So, yeah: 30M / year is possible (although unlikely)

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    4. With its availability in a whole lot of devices, in netbooks, Windows machines, and use in many sites, Flash dominance is not going away soon, whatever Apple wants. As more people get smartphones, they want the same rich multimedia experience. The availability of Flash in the deluge of Android handsets, extends that experience.

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  8. I’m defiantly with Adobe on this. I think consumer needs to see that in the coming summer when people are using other tablets and smart phones that loading the web in full and faster than the iPhone and iPad people will make the vote as Shantanu said with their wallets.

    Just the other day my wife was in class and her and her classmate were trying to load their grades on their phones. She has the HTC Hero with Sprint and her classmate the iPhone. in just a moment my wife had logged into the school’s servers and pulled up her grades and her classmate was still trying to load the initial page on her iPhone.

    So wither you’re a tech head like myself or a simple user the difference is clear. I’m planing to purchase the HP Slate & the HTC Evo this summer and that’s where my dollars will go.

    • Mike
      theBrokenApple.com
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    1. Mike, as a current Android device owner (that signed up for the Flash 10.1 beta) and with three Windows-based UMPCs in my stable of devices, I see where you’re coming from. In fact, your purchase plans hedge the bet quite well since you’ll be covered no matter happens to Flash. Smart move from a consumer point of view.

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    2. So what does that mean?
      Your wife is priviliged to some early dev release of flash?
      Have I missed something?

      What exactly was responsible for the iPhone beeing unable to render the page? I highly doubt it was flash

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  9. I recently installed FlashBlock plug-ins for Google Chrome and Firefox. They are amazing!

    • pages load faster.
    • you don’t waste unnecessary CPU cycles, battery, etc., on Flash content.
    • if you want to see the Flash content, you just click on it.

    If websites were to offer HTML5 by default, with Flash as a backup, they could potentially kill two birds with one stone:

    1. iPhone/iPad support.
    2. FlashBlock circumvention.

    Personally, I have no problem seeing ads. I just don’t want Flash ads bogging down my system.

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    1. Exactly my thoughts. I have refused to install a AdBlocker for many years now seeing that websites need the ads to survive. But the ads get more ridicoulus by the minute with minigames and automatically played videos and what not eating cpu time and subsequently battery life to no end. I have now installed a flash blocker. I really didn’t have any other choice.
      The day Flash dies I will be dancing on it’s grave.

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      1. overcooked elaborate flash ads are exactly the model for the kind of iAds Apple are encouraging developers to build into Apps. It seems its not the ads themselves that Apple wants to save us from, they want them written with their code, not Adobe’s!

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      2. @paul Knight.
        Apple doesn’t own HTML5. Apple is merely one company thats throwing its weight behind a completely open standard.
        Now if only Flash was open then this would actually be a valid argument.

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  10. The fact is that the vast majority of web pages are designed with desktop or laptop users in mind. Hence, I think the mobile platforms that will offer desktop experience are the ones coming out on the winning side of this. I actually plan to purchase the HP slate just because it offers the desktop experience of the web.

    Yes, the desktop world is different than the mobile world, but perhaps not much longer.

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    1. Totally understand the rationale for your potential HP Slate purchase. I’ve bought three UMPCs in the past, of which the HP Slate is simply an evolutionary next iteration, and the devices have served me well.

      But I’m wondering about this thought: “…the vast majority of web pages are designed with desktop or laptop users in mind.”

      I’m not disputing the statement, but smartphone sales are due to surpass desktop and laptop sales within the next few years. If the mobile market is growing faster, do you think web developers will continue to create websites for desktop or laptop users at the same pace they do today? I don’t think so, but of course, that’s arguable.

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      1. I’m not sure, my impression is that mobile browsers become more and more like desktop browsers in all aspects but screen size. Besides, within the next few years most smartphones are likely to have flash support, with the possible exception of Iphones. I think this will actually be very interesting to follow, because I’m not sure Apple is big enough to kill flash alone. Already now Apple is facing increased competition in the smartphone market, and there are analysts who believe their market share has already peaked.

        And it seems most people had no real beef against flash until Steve Jobs started his crusade:

        http://www.google.se/insights/search/#q=%22flash%20is%20dead%22&cmpt=q

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