Are Adobe Right to Kill Flash for Android Devices?

November 9th was a difficult day for Android users round the world. Adobe announced, in a major turn of events, that they will no longer be developing Flash Player for the Android and Blackberry mobile platforms, instead concentrating on alternative media technology such as HTML 5. Android users had to slink away with their tails between their legs, mainly from the surge of smugness coming from users of Apple devices, who were all bursting to say, “Told you so!”.

The Adobe Flash plug-in is no longer being developed for Android

The move, which included laying off 750 staff at Adobe HQ, was an extremely bold one on Adobe’s behalf and has triggered a barrage of questions. Many people are now left wondering whether Steve Jobs has finally got his way at last. It was no secret that Jobs hated everything pretty much everything Flash-related (and even publicly ranted about it on Apple’s website) and while he was the boss at Apple, he did almost everything in his power to stop Flash polluting his own mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

Jokes were often made about the enormous processing power needed to run Flash on Apple devices

But why did Adobe do it? Why would they decide to kill off a major web technology and one of the features that put Android devices ahead? Were they right to do so? Read on for my thoughts…

Adobe Flash

What’s the Big Deal?

Flash is a key web technology and it is used to power interactive content such as embedded videos, online games and banner ads. Adobe likes to point out that 75% of online videos are currently encoded in Flash – but more and more sites are switching to use HTML 5 with a Flash fallback instead. Unlike Flash, where the user needs to install a plug-in to display content, HTML 5 allows web developers to embed the interactive content straight into the website, with no need for any additional software; the tools to view the video are built in to (newer) browsers.

HTML 5 is the technology that is destined to replace Flash as one of the dominant web technologies

Apple’s feud with Adobe boils down to the fact that Apple regards Flash as unsecure and unstable and states that the number one reason for why Macs crash is due to the Flash plug-in (though this claim has never actually been proven). They claimed that there is no need to equip their mobile devices with Flash as, according to them:

There are plenty of video apps available on iOS, such as YouTube, Netflix and Vimeo (avoiding the need to watch online video in Safari).

There are over 50,000 games in the App Store, avoiding the need for a separate Flash plug-in to play mobile games.

Flash is a closed-source, proprietary plug-in whereas HTML 5 is open-source.

Apple’s loathing of Flash has been made very clear publicly

What’s Going to Happen to Flash?

Like Betamax, HD-DVD and Minidiscs it seems to me that Flash is going to become simply a relic of the past and enter the technology history books as an outdated, unsecure technology. The fact that Apple defiantly refused to allow a Flash plug-in for its mobile devices seemed to be the first nail in the coffin, and with Apple devices becoming ever more popular among the masses it seemed that Adobe were fighting an up-hill battle.

Adobe Flash1

Flash is often portrayed as a foe of the Internet

The future for Flash on desktop devices such as PCs and Macs is, for the foreseeable future anyway, uncertain. Adobe have stated that the development of Flash Player will still go on to provide “advanced gaming and premium video”, including 3D graphics. And Flash can still be used to create apps for the Android platform (the kind you’d download from the Android Market), but Flash files embedded in web pages, will soon become a relic of the past – on mobile browsers, at least.

Were Adobe Right?

Although I may get a lot of stick for this, I think that Adobe have made the right decision. I hate to see companies being bullied into submission by Apple (it’s either Steve Jobs’s way or the highway), but Adobe was fighting an extremely uphill battle.

I have used two Android phones – the HTC Desire HD and the Samsung Galaxy S II – and I found that on my Desire HD, the browser often became unresponsive when trying to play embedded Flash video and loading websites with loads of Flash banner ads. Flash took up an enormous amount of processing power which mobile devices couldn’t really handle and although it was nice to be able to use it as a trump card against Apple device users, it was a flawed technology.

I never really use Flash on my Android device: I watch YouTube videos via the YouTube app and any other kind of videos I watch on my Mac. But (and I am sure a lot of people will agree with me), it is nice to have the option of watching Flash videos on your Android phone, even if it did slow it down a lot.

Only time will really tell what will happen to mobile Flash. For now, you can still watch Flash videos on your Android device, but don’t expect any updates to it. It will be a tearful goodbye for some, however it will be a goodbye that was, inevitably, simply destined to happen.