It was the kind of story you’d expect to find published in the April Fool’s Day rush – in fact, I wrote something like it as an April Fool's story last year – but this time Adobe wasn’t joking: after years of pushing Flash as the be-all and end-all solution to portable media applications, Adobe has conceded that it may not actually be the best thing for smartphones and tablets – and has stopped developing new versions of Flash for mobile devices.
Instead, Adobe will support HTML5 – which is a startling change on so many levels, not the least because it vindicates the hostile stance Steve Jobs took against Flash for many years. Flash would be introduced on the iPhone over his dead body, he effectively maintained – but even he probably didn't believe Flash would meet its end just a month after he did.
Tablet makers have made much of Flash support to differentiate their products from the iPad. Does its mobile death lessen the appeal of their devices?
Perhaps the biggest victims of this shift will be the many tablet makers who market Flash compatibility as a major feature of their platforms. I’m not sure how many people have actually not bought an iPad just so they could run Flash applications and Web sites, but Research In Motion, Acer, Motorola and others have been counting on it. In a market where they're already dropping like flies, the loss of Flash will be yet another painful loss.
I’d be interested to know how many bought a non-iPad to run Flash applications and Web sites, then found out the overall experience was troublesome, annoying and crash-prone.
Even for those who found the experience satisfactory, Adobe pulling Flash will leave mobile device makers with one less item on an already slim list of reasons their devices are better than Apple’s. More than anything, however, Adobe’s decision may catalyse the world’s software developers – as well as its authors of annoying and intrusive interactive ads – to read up on HTML5 and consider new ways to reach their mobile target markets. Developers may have baulked at reworking their content for HTML5 in the past, but with Flash sailing into the mobile sunset, they have run out of excuses.
One market that will particularly be crying out for direction is education, where students rely heavily on Flash-driven sites like Mathletics and Club Penguin yet had no compunction embracing iPads in their thousands without regard for the availability, or lack thereof, of Flash. Huge markets like education already weren't buying non-iPads – and now they have even less reason to even consider them.
Flash isn’t entirely dead, of course: it still runs on hundreds of millions of desktop systems, which have both the computing grunt and the interface flexibility to provide the usability we all know and love. But with this significant reversal by Adobe, it appears that yet another part of Steve Jobs' Utopian worldview has fallen into place. With renewed developer and vendor efforts to boost its capabilities, HTML5 will be the ultimate winner.
Will you miss Flash? Did you buy a non-iPad tablet specifically to run Flash apps?
[HY05] [Original here]