262 Comments

Summary:

Flash has been touted as one of the advantages for Android mobile devices. But how does Flash video perform on handsets running Google’s mobile OS? To find out we asked Kevin Tofel to test Flash video on his Nexus One — and the results are not good.

flash on android loading

Many have touted the availability of Flash on Android devices as a competitive advantage over Apple’s mobile devices, which rely on HTML5 and native apps for their video and interactivity. But how much of an advantage is it to be able to tune in to Flash-based video on your Android device? To find out, we turned to resident mobile expert Kevin Tofel and his trusty Nexus One to show us what one can expect from Flash on a device running the latest version of Google’s mobile OS.

But first, the setup: Kevin’s demo video was shot while he was connected to his local Wi-Fi network in his home, which features a 25-Mbps Verizon FiOS broadband connection, so connectivity shouldn’t be an issue. Furthermore, the Nexus One sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 1Ghz processor, so it should have plenty of horsepower for loading video on the device. So with that in mind, how did Flash video actually perform on the Nexus One?

Shockingly bad.

While trying to watch videos from ABC.com, Fox.com and Metacafe on the handset, Kevin found that videos were slow to load, if they loaded at all, leading to an overall very inconsistent experience while using his Android device for video.

While trying to load an episode of Wipeout on ABC’s mobile site, he received an error message urging him to “try again later.” An attempt at viewing new ABC show Rookie Blue was only slightly more successful, as he was able to load a Toyota ad before the player froze up, but he wasn’t able to actually load up the episode.

Kevin was able to get an episode of Bones running on Fox.com, but the video was choppy despite the Wi-Fi connection and the Nexus One’s mobile processor. In fact, the Bones episode seemed more like a slideshow when viewed on the Android device than an actual video. Not only that, but the sound wasn’t synced with the “video” being displayed. (At least Fox warned viewers that the video being shown was “not optimized for mobile.”)

Surprisingly enough, the best experience might have come not from the site of one of the major broadcasters, but from video startup Metacafe. The first attempt at streaming a video from Metacafe — a clip from the previous night’s Emmys — was unsuccessful because it was hosted by Hulu, and Hulu blocks mobile devices. However, after attempting to watch a video in HD — which also was not optimized for mobile devices and loaded like a slideshow — Kevin was able to get a semi-viewable stream of the trailer for the latest Resident Evil film up and running.

While in theory Flash video might be a competitive advantage for Android users, in practice it’s difficult to imagine anyone actually trying to watch non-optimized web video on an Android handset, all of which makes one believe that maybe Steve Jobs was right to eschew Flash in lieu of HTML5 on the iPhone and iPad.

Update: A few readers have submitted their own videos showing how Flash works on their Android devices. Check them out here.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: Why Apple Hasn’t Sewn Up the Tablet Market — Yet (subscription required)

  1. Those videos are encoded at a higher-than-mobile quality. It’s not Flash that’s the issue.

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    1. Actually it is flash. We’re not talking streaming over 3G here. He was using WiFi with 25 Mbps downstream. Therefore, the only “mobile” part of the equation is less powerful hardware than a desktop computer: processor, memory, etc. Nevertheless, the 1Ghz Snapdragon should be more than sufficient to play the videos without being choppy. That leaves just Flash.

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      1. Hardly a scientific experiment? To “claim” Flash is the problem (which it may well be), you need a control.

        Have you tested inline playback of HTML5 video? Ideally, you need to test inline playback of Flash video vs HTML5 video via the same vendor’s website.

        Without doing that, any claims you make are simply sensationalist.

        Why don’t you create a very simple Flash video player and a very simple HTML5 video player, both playing the same H.264 video. Upload the videos to your site, and test?!! We’d all be genuinely interested to see the results.

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    2. Perhaps not, but if handset manufacturers, Adobe and Google are promising that Flash on an Android phone gives users access to “all the web,” this is a pretty horrible user experience. Remember, the end user normally won’t know or care if the video is optimized for the mobile web or not — all he’ll care about is whether or not he can watch it. In that respect, this sort of demonstration shows that having Flash is just as bad — if not worse — than seeing Apple’s broken Flash links, if only because this creates the expectation that it’ll work, when in reality it won’t.

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      1. To be fair Ryan Lawler, you haven’t been. Feature wise the droid build of Flash Player isn’t up to the desktop standard, but we’ve been watching videos on an HTC desire without a hitch.

        True, it’s not as good as the native experience on iPhone/iPad but it’s nowhere near as bad as you make out (make up?).

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      2. @Ben: Have you actually watched the video? Are you claiming that somehow the poor performance which Kevin demonstrates above is just “made up”?

        That’s a pretty serious accusation, and I’d like to see you back it up.

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      3. Oh, dear Ryan, you, like everybody else, failed to read the fine print.

        Froyo “supports Flash.” It does NOT actually claim to RUN Flash, at any quality. Google promised you bupkis and delivered 1000%.

        And Adobe? I haven’t seen any actual claims from them since they said it was Jobs’s fault that they couldn’t *** put their software *** on the iPhone. That’s very likely true, too.

        Caveat emptor. There’s Bull flying all over the place.

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      4. Your talking absolute rubbish here -

        1/ They have and it’s not a horrible experience as your suggesting, Flash works fine for me and it’s not all just about movies, it’s also about viewing design elements made in Flash on the web!

        2/Rubbish! I’d prefer to have Flash that not – if I could have a £1 for everyone who asks me why their iPhone and iPad can’t play Flash like my HTC Desire can I’d be a very rich man. Most people get really frustrated by lack of Flash and would actually prefer to have it rather than not (Fanboys excluded as they believe Steve Jobs’s sale patter), especially on the iPad!

        3/ Stop kidding yourself, the main reason Steve Jobs is anti Flash is protecting his App sales – he sees Flash as threatening that, it’s as simple as that!

        The Apple’s locked down approach sucks! – you carry on believe Steve Jobs, but leave the rest of us out of it, not everyone preys at the Apple Temple! And FFS stop knocking every other device, OS, app and software that’s not made by Apple, it just shows you as the Apple Fanboy you are really are rather than someone who may actually know what he is talking about!

        All your trying to do is brain wash less informed people “the Apple way” is the only way – your wrong, if someone wants a Nokia running Symbian 3 good on them I say, it’s their choice, mine is Android, yours is iPhone – but stop trying to prove yours is the only choice and it’s better than mine, because it’s NOT!!

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      5. @ Greg “3/ Stop kidding yourself, the main reason Steve Jobs is anti Flash is protecting his App sales – he sees Flash as threatening that, it’s as simple as that!”

        Greg, it’s commonly accepted that Apple makes it money from hardware not software. The proof is in the balance sheet. The purpose of the iTunes and AppsStore is to support hardware sales, which is why they operate near break-even.

        So no, it’s not as simple as that or anywhere close for that matter.

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      6. I wonder why Greg is turning this into another Apple rant. Does Flash on Android suck, that is the question, and the evidence is pretty strong.

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      7. Unfortunately, “all the web” also means all those annoying flash ads that are taking processing cycles away from showing the video. While I applaud Google for the inclusion of Flash in Froyo, it doesn’t help that the experience is ruined by Adobe, and Flash developers who throw crappy code out there on the web.

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      8. Hee Haw the Pigtrotter Thursday, September 2, 2010

        @Greg: firstly, when contracting “you are”, it’s “you’re”, not “your”, which is used as a possessive.

        And as for the other Flash “design elements” on the web? I think I can manage without all the ads.

        Have you also considered that Flash hasn’t been designed for touch interfaces. Every time that I have tried using anything more complicated than a video on an Android device, the interaction has been very poor, to say the least. And my experience with video performance hasn’t been all that much better than Kevin’s.

        For now, I’ll take the “crippled” HTML5 video on an iPhone over the insanely poor performing Flash video on Android, thanks.

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    3. In other words, there may very well be less mobile-Flash-capable Flash content on the web than there is HTML5-ready video, and the rest of Flash is still unaccessible to mobile-Flash — so Adobe, Google, and every Flash supporter are talking out of their BLEEP-BLEEPs.

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    4. Oh so you think users will be OK with that? Some Flash works and some doesn’t? Heh. Flash is the problem.

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      1. The Flash Player plays back content that it is told to play back. If the content works or doesn’t work, depends on how the content is made not on the Flash Player.

        Take the HTML5 showcase on Apple’s website, http://www.apple.com/html5/. Works great in Safari and not in Firefox. So HTML5 is now bad?

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    5. Isn’t the point of flash on Android is to have the “full web experience” on a mobile device?

      So you are now saying “higher-than-mobile quality” doesn’t work on a mobile device?

      I seems to have no problem streaming netflix movies on my iPhone.

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    6. Yeah my iphone was showing video encoded that high through h.264 2 years ago, and it wouldn’t stutter while scrolling. Really.

      Good Job adobe.

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  2. I agree with MrS.
    We have been able to watch live streams of TWiT (one of Mediafly’s content partners) on the Nexus One via Flash quite nicely.
    The caveat, of course, is that the stream is optimized for mobile.

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    1. So the so called “Full Web Experience” is really “optimized for mobile Experience”?

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  3. I’m watching the video while posting this message on my Evo4G and I’m not experiencing any slow downswith flash. Never really tested ance or fox but flash on android works great with the dailyshow and colbertnation :)

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  4. I’ve been using the Flash 10.1 Final that was leaked a week or two ago. I’ve noticed a marked improvement over the 10.1 Beta that the EVO Froyo update brought. Supposedly its due to hardware acceleration that the Beta didn’t have. I would investigate this before you draw conclusions.

    I’ve not experienced any problems since upgrading. Hopefully the final will hit the Marketplace soon so people will stop complaining.

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    1. Are you just “using” Flash because after viewing this hard evidence (Exhibit #101 in the impending class-action lawsuit) I would suggest that Flash is totally USELESS without hardware acceleration because it is a CPU whore and has no bidness on any mobile device period end of sentence.

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      1. Couple that with the fact that Nexus One and the other HTC phones don’t have very powerful GPU’s.

        I think Flash will work reasonably well on the next generation of dual core mobile CPU’s and better GPU’s that are coming out this winter or early next year.

        That being said, I still don’t care much for Flash and I wish Youtube and all the other video site would just switch already to HTML5 and WebM.

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  5. bizarre way to promote iphone: ‘see it only works a little bit’ ‘your better off with it not working at all’.

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    1. would you rather eat a huge, half-cooked thanksgiving dinner, or a small, fully-cooked, single plate of sushi (or whatever you prefer) prepared by a skilled chef?

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      1. Bad analogy. A better analogy is would you like a half cooked dinner or would you rather starve?

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  6. Roger Matthews Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    But having flash means that you can access things like “The Cloud” (a public WiFi system available in Public Houses and Cafes and student unions) in the UK which will simply not function on iPads which do not have any flash capability

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    1. I’ve used The Cloud on iPad without any issues.

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    2. In fact, The Cloud even advertise it as such, and have an iPhone/iPad app that lets you search for their hotspots:

      http://www.thecloud.net/page/8567

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      1. I apologise, you are correct. When I first got an iPad I took it down to the local Wethspoons pub and it wouldn’t work with “The Cloud” complaining that it didn’t have Flash. Following your reply, I took it down tonight and it worked fine, all I can presume is that the access point had a problem when I first tried it! However, I can’t watch the test match on Sky Player – no silverlight! That’s a pity.

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    3. Yolanda Youpad Tuesday, August 31, 2010

      I have the Clouds, the WiFis, the interWebs and indeed the interNEts on my iPad and it all works gr8. Hell I even have the blue tooth ! What more do you need really, certainly not the obnoxious flash apps that keep clogging the tubes on the net.

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  7. As soon as he used the outside network speed to say he has a “fast pipe” I stopped watching.

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    1. Well in case you haven’t noticed Kevin is the kind of guy who likes big pipes. If you know what I mean.

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      1. It’s not really that great. I get just under his claimed speeds via my low-medium range Telus DSL package. and By sometime next year I’ll be upgraded to VDSL which should blow him out of the water.

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    2. that’s funny as soon as i read your comment i thought, i hope they make him wear a helmet when he goes out of the house.

      It’s worth noting due to the nature of the test.

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  8. Tea Party One Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    I think I have new found respect for Mr. Jobs.
    Looks like Steve was right (again). Adobe Engineers ARE lazy to say the least and Flash 10.1 is horrific spaghetti code make no mistake about it fellers. It is time to move away from this proprietary junk and adopt HTML 5 as the future. You all can thank Steve later!

    Brigade Commander | Palin Army Division | Tea Party Nation

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    1. Reality check: “In addition, Flash has not performed well on mobile devices. We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it. Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010. We think it will eventually ship, but we’re glad we didn’t hold our breath. Who knows how it will perform?” (Thoughts on Flash)

      See? He’s not 100% right: he actually KNEW how it would perform.

      And Pulleeze! Adobe did not say it would ship on A smartphone in 2009; Adobe claimed 100 million smartphones in 2009. From eWeek: “Adobe already is ahead of schedule regarding its plans to get Flash onto smart phones, according to [Adobe CTO] Lynch. He said Adobe set a goal of reaching 100 million Flash-enabled phones by 2010, but the company is on track to meet that goal in 2009.”

      So consider losing that Apple fanboism. Jobs is just trying to get rich by taking their 29¢ share of apps. Isn’t it obvious?

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      1. Walt. those are some big numbers.

        who cares.

        Flash is not working well or consistently well enough on mobile devices, period (um, did you see the video above?). Some people say it’s acceptable, some people don’t. Those discrepancies amount to one thing: inconsistent end user experience. so it doesn’t matter that Adobe is ahead of schedule.

        “Jobs is just trying to get rich” …

        Oh really? Oh I didn’t know that! Him being the CEO of Apple, I thought he was in it for the HTML5 evangelism and the black mock turtlenecks. Do you think Adobe’s shit don’t stink too? Don’t forget, Flash is a 100 percent proprietary plug-in, and it dominates video playback on the web. Of course they want to protect it. Stop playing favorites.

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      2. I hate to break it to you walt, but Google is a privately held company, and they don’t care about you. Neither Does adobe.

        Also, you need to retire if you think it’s about the 29c. There a hardware company. They haven’t been overly cruel to the jailbreakers (they don’t hide old, jailbreakable firmware on their site for example) and guess what

        flash apps are terrible.

        Are we seeing an insane influx of flash dev’d apps on the java powered android market place? No.

        That’s a Nexus One, THE flagship phone, sold by google to the masses, and it’s been like that since may.

        Reality Check: The iPhone came out in 2007, it’s entering fall 2010 and flash in the mobile space still sucks. Monumentally. I’ve never seen my first gen iphone 400mhz lag as hard as the browser in that video. Ever.

        btw, android’s vnc clients are unusable for work after 10 min with human thumbs.

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      3. There a hardware company

        First

        They’re*

        Second, most of their components are Foxcon brand. I don’t see any Apple branded motherboards/GPUs/Ram.

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  9. I will agree and disagree with you.

    I’m currently running the Flash 10.1 beta that came preinstalled with the Sprint HTC Evo 4G Froyo update, on a stock device.

    I definitely have been frustrated by the claims of Flash performance on Android. Even many of the demo sites that are apparently “mobile” optimized offer performance that is simply not compelling — I’ve tried a few games on Kongregate, and the games that require speedy reaction like “Fat Slice Mobile” simply don’t “cut” it. The game just doesn’t register my many actions and I end up losing as a result.

    So, many flash games suck on Android. That said, I’ve actually found video to be reasonably sufficient. I haven’t tried too many, but I know I’ve often run into the situation where the rights attached to a particular Youtube video does not permit mobile viewing, so the Youtube app will not work. I know I can fire up my Dolphin HD browser, set the identifier to desktop and watch the Youtube video quite well with the built in flash. For the latest viral or music video of the day, it works well enough for me to “get it.”

    Lastly, Flash isn’t just about games or movies, which is the important part left out here.

    There are many uses of flash, from basic website layout to audio players that are not nearly as processor intensive, and end up working quite well. (I hate full flash websites as much as the next guy, but I’d slog through one just to get to the information I need rather than go without.) Websites like Playlist.com that use flash audio players allow me to listen to a new song a friend links me to, where prior to Froyo, I simply had to do without.

    The bottom line is that, yes, Flash “on the whole” on mobile devices is not ready for prime time (although how Chrisdpratt conclusively determines not a hardware limitation, I’m not sure — a “1 Ghz anything” isn’t really informative as to this).

    That said, I think the “option” for flash is the right one, and it works reasonably well enough in the many incarnations and variations that exist out there for users to get a better web experience. Just because it sucks at video and other high processor intensive tasks should not be a condemnation for the whole thing. Being able to play flash audio alone is enough to sell me.

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  10. This is hardly if you have used the beta.
    Try Flash 10.1 Final!
    If you have then my apologies.
    If you have NOT then please FIX the title to reflect that its the beta version.

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    1. Dude it don’t matter if it Alpha, Beta, Final, Gamma, Zeta or Zulu, it is still Flash and it performance has always sucked big time and long time. Please purchase a clue at the head shop next visit and do us all a favor. Tanks in advance.

      You Flash fanbois are a sicko neanderthals, time to get out of your dark cave and experience the glorious sunshine we call HTML 5 . Wake up caveman!

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      1. @H T Emell V: You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, thanks for trying.

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      2. “Dude it don’t matter if it Alpha, Beta, Final, Gamma, Zeta or Zulu”

        This speaks volumes to your lack of knowledge. For someone telling others to buy a clue you should really follow your own advice.

        HTML5 is nice, but its not the one-and-all answer to all the things Flash is capable of. I’m not a big fan of Flash either, but saying HTML5 is poised to completely replace it is disingenuous at best.

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