Blog Post

Video: Flash on Android Is Shockingly Bad

Many have touted the availability of Flash on Android (s goog) devices as a competitive advantage over Apple’s (s aapl) 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 (s VZ) FiOS broadband connection, so connectivity shouldn’t be an issue. Furthermore, the Nexus One sports a Qualcomm (s qcom) Snapdragon 1Ghz processor, so it should have plenty of horsepower for loading video on the device. So with that in mind, how did Flash (s adbe) video actually perform on the Nexus One?

Shockingly bad.

While trying to watch videos from ABC.com (s DIS), Fox.com (s NWS) 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)

262 Responses to “Video: Flash on Android Is Shockingly Bad”

  1. Reason still I’d say for some sites to stick with YouTube and use a YouTube channel for content distribution. I’ve been very happy with the stock YouTube app on my Touch Pro 2, and it plays all videos fine.

    Kevin, of all the sites you visited, you didn’t punch up one of your own flash videos from jkOnTheRun??? I thought you told me that the Ooyala player worked fine on your N1?

  2. Doug Fiedor

    He’s running Wi-Fi and must have one hell of a slow connect speed!

    My EVO works just fine — about as well as either of the two netbooks we have here. And, yeah, I’m also usually on Wi-Fi.

    • Brutus Beefcake

      I think your EVO is not running Frozen Yogurt. Remember that every version of Android runs differently on every different piece of hardware. Android platform performance and compatibility issues are all over the map and cannot be compared directly when using different phones with different firmware. And that is just the OS i talk about, the Android Apps are insanely inconsistent across the many hardware/OS platforms.

      You basic Android phone is like a box of chocolates, you don’t know what your gonna get. And Android tablets may act like a melted box of chocolates at best.

      I think you can clearly see the wisdom of the iOS platform now as Apple watches The Google pull its pants back up after being totally exposed of its short comings.

      • PRETHOUGHT

        My EVO is running on Froyo and the flash absolutely sucks on it. This is stating the obvious though. But on certain extranet sites that require flash it’s bearable to use. Another one of Android’s shortcomings is VPN support there is none. Unless you homebrew with openvpn not exactly SAS-70. But hey we don’t need to do any stinkin real work when we can play on our Android phone and use all of googles apps. Plus look at all the flash games you can play now. The wisdom of Apple is allowing a platform that can be apart of corporate america and be managed by the man. Hey we can’t all be underpaid independent consultants or write blogs that get picked up by corporate sponsorship to push other corporations agendas/wares for a price.

  3. Having built Flash on iPods, now iPhone for more than five years by doing a simple conversion to QuickTime, Flash works great and what is the point of a CPU if you don’t use it now and again.
    Cheers and Flash is still a great platform.
    Tom

  4. worldbfree4me

    Flash on my EVO works perfect for me. I use it often to stream vids from MSNBC, CNN, FOXNEWS as well as Podcast from the aforementioned sites.I have not visited a site yet that my almighty EVO could not open and utilize its video or flash feed! Sounds like a few are just hating because the iDont, Wont ever do flash!!

    • WTF, you watch 2 far left news organizations AND a right wing fair and balanced news corp. Your head must be spinning like mad. Perhaps you need to install a liberal filter on your EVO to lessen the pain on your left side.

      As for Flash, after watching this Flash is dead to me.

  5. It’s not the Flash. If the site serves video stream with a codec that is too much for mobile to handle(either too high resolution or inefficient codec), it doesn’t matter whether it’s HTML5 or Flash. It’s a codec issue. Flash is just a container format and is NOT inherently slower than, say, HTML5. Both HTML5 and Flash performs similary when they are serving the same codec/resolution stream.

    • steffenjobbs

      But it still comes back to the claim of Adobe saying that Flash will deliver the entire web to mobile users since in many instances it won’t. You make a good point that it could be the codec or the stream rate is too much for a mobile device to handle. But then it will still fall into the hands of the site to re-encode for mobile devices and Adobe just can’t say Flash will work just great viewing videos on all mobile devices because that isn’t true. It’s going to be hit and miss and the average user won’t know why.

      Everyone thinks it’s a hate war between Apple and Adobe, but it’s users that are going to suffer on both sides. If Adobe can get Flash to work great on all mobile devices on all sites, all well and good. If Apple can force sites to move to HTML5 to work on all iOS devices, all well and good. I just want to see consistency of viewing videos on all sites using hand-held mobile devices no matter how it’s achieved.

  6. Oletros

    Which version of Flash are you using? It’s the only thing you haven’t said about what are you using to do the test.

    Surprisingly, Resident Evil trailer on my Nexus finishes almost 10 second earliar than in the video. Perhaps because I’m using the final version of Flash 10.1 and you are using a beta version without hardware acceleration?

  7. The issue is one of H264 encoding settings. Your mobile device’s GPU can only play H264 videos encoded at specific quality levels — for instance, 640×480, Baseline profile, level 3.0. If you try to play a video encoded with the main profile, or at level 3.1 (too many ref frames, etc), the GPU will fail.

    What sucks for the user is that instead of saying “this video has not been optimized for your phone, therefore we won’t play it”, flash for android (and for desktops — flash 10.1 on windows/mac tries to use the GPU if it can) will instead fall back to the phone’s underpowered CPU for decoding. This results in truly awful performance, and I think the user experience is worse than saying “yell at the person who encoded this video”.

    So yes, the user experience for flash video can be very bad on mobile, but we can’t improve it significantly until we get better GPUs (nvidia tegra2’s GPU wouldn’t break a sweat) or content providers start encoding video for mobile flash users.

    Hope this clears things up.

    • Nonsense. The iPhone doesn’t have a problem with H264, and it doesn’t support flash. Many Android phones also support H264 playback but don’t yet have Flash. The codec support of the GPUs remains the same, no matter what the video platform is, but straight H264 looks much better than Flash/Flash-H264.

    • is there a better way to tell the user they need to access an appropriately-encoded video stream, and that their application/implementation didn’t pick the right one/the right one wasn’t available? to an average user, this is very bad for the adobe flash experience, regardless of all the apple vs adobe back and forth.

    • I agree with bed as to the root of the problem, though the solution I’d like to see is better use of the adaptive streaming technology already available to route the user to the right set of videos without them knowing any different. The user needs to stop picking video qualities and let the device make the decision based on conditions it can report back to the network. were partway there, but lots to go…

  8. Keep in mind that this is the best Adobe could do after YEARS of working on mobile flash. I assume that in Microsoft like fashion they hope the hardware will catch up to their crappy software.

  9. This should not be a surprise to anyone. Flash on desktop sucks too. Thats why I block it and will also block it on my Droid X. I don’t want it and don’t miss it.

    • Walt French

      ummm, no, Ocmer. Apple doesn’t have a single thing to do with how well Android plays HTML5. That’s up to the good souls at Google and HTC and whoever.

      All Apple has ever claimed about performance was that in April, Apple had asked Adobe to show decent Flash on any single mobile device, but Adobe was unable.

      Oh, and that someday, it’d come. I’ll guess that the dual-core, 1.5GHz processors we hear rumored will handle virtually any correct Flash game or vid with aplomb.

      These smartphones, of course, will have 10X the nominal CPU power, and probably will have 8X the RAM, of the iPhone/1 that Adobe sorta claimed it could support. I don’t suppose that anybody sees any irony in claiming that Jobs is a fascist because he wouldn’t put Flash onto a machine that, no matter how nifty, was WAAAY too underpowered for Flash, and then turning around and saying that just wait another year and you’ll see!

      • You’re right Apple does not have anything to do with the performance of HTML5 performance on Android phones. But i still want to see a video of HTML5 experience on Android phones.

  10. vitriolix

    This experience looks painful. Luckily this just isn’t representative of what you experience 90% of the time. I have been using flash daily on blogs with embeded videos from all kidns of sites without anything like this. Click the video, it loads up in about 2-3 seconds and starts playing, just like on the desktop.

    Once you get used to having it, going back to my iPod touch feels pointless and baren, constantly knowing big chunks of content on the web are just invisible to me.

  11. I just want to confirm another 10.1 Froyo on HTC Evo 4G. Not choppy works great especially when using wifi. After a little buffering I was able to watch a full episode of House from Fox.com There was a warning that the video was not optimized for mobile, but looked flawless. No sync issues, artifacts, or choppiness. Wipeout on ABC.com was slightly choppy, but no where near unwatchable because of it.

    • Don’t dumb down your own expectations in order to say you’re able to work with Flash. Consider if Flash experience is so necessary that you would lower your own standards in order to say it is a necessary technology in mobile devices.

      You know, it’s about time the web moved away from Flash. Its days are numbered.

  12. 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.

    • H T Emell V

      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!

      • “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.

  13. NeoteriX

    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.

  14. Tea Party One

    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

    • Walt French

      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?

      • 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.

      • 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.

      • grahamf

        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.

    • 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.

  15. Roger Matthews

    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

  16. ahow628

    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.

    • Brett Favre

      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.

      • 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.

  17. Hadoualex

    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 :)

  18. 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.

    • chrisdpratt

      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.

      • 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.

    • Ryan Lawler

      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.

      • 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?).

      • @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.

      • Walt French

        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.

      • 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!!

      • @ 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.

      • 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.

      • Hee Haw the Pigtrotter

        @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.

    • 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.

    • 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.