Adobe’s announcement of stopping active development of Flash for mobile browsers earlier in the week generated a lot of opinions about the future of the web. While most of them were optimistic about the developments happening in the HTML 5 scene, many Flash enthusiasts were unsurprisingly not pleased with the decision.
Mike Chambers, Product Manager for Flash at Adobe, has penned a 2000 words long post on his personal blog outlining the major reasons Flash as a web platform didn’t gain critical mass on mobile phones leading to Adobe’s decision.
He acknowledged that Flash wasn’t going to be ubiquitous on mobile, as it was on the desktop:
This one should be pretty apparent, but given the fragmentation of the mobile market, and the fact that one of the leading mobile platforms (Apple’s iOS) was not going to allow the Flash Player in the browser, the Flash Player was not on track to reach anywhere near the ubiquity of the Flash Player on desktops.
Mike goes onto say, something which was very clear from Steve Jobs’ open letter titled Thoughts On Flash:
Just to be very clear on this. No matter what we did, the Flash Player was not going to be available on Apple’s iOS anytime in the foreseeable future.
Apple’s primary issues with Flash were, as Steve Jobs said, the underwhelming performance of Flash on mobile phones and the emergence of HTML 5 technologies.
With more than 200 million iOS devices (which didn’t support Flash) in the market, most publishers began delivering HTML 5 content, thereby reducing their dependence on Flash. In fact even Adobe began offering a tool for publishers to help them deliver videos playable on iOS devices.
Because most smartphone browsers are built on WebKit, HTML 5 support across a number of platforms like iOS, Android and BlackBerry is really strong. Mike says:
HTML5 has very strong support on modern mobile devices and tablets. Indeed, on mobile devices, it has a level of ubiquity similar to what the Flash Player has on the desktop. While performance and implementations haven’t always been great or consistent across devices, they have continued to improve at a pretty dramatic rate (just look at the insane Canvas performance increases between iOS 4 and 5).
Our goal has always been to obtain the same level of ubiquity for the Flash Player on mobile browsers, but, at the end of the day, it is something that did not, and was not going to happen.
Since there already existed a better way to deliver videos on the web, Flash started losing ground in its most important market. Obviously HTML 5 doesn’t have high end features like DRM protection, but most publishers only needed to deliver ordinary video streaming capabilities to users.
The other use case of Flash was interactive applications on the web, mostly games. But most mobile developers chose to go native, as evident from the large number of applications on both the App Store and the Android Market. Moreover, Adobe themselves provided a cross compiler, which allowed developers to package their Flash applications as native apps.
Mike says that this is the third reason why Flash failed to take off as a mobile browser plugin.
As compared to desktop Flash development, where hardware acceleration could be achieved by using documented APIs, mobile Flash development involved a number of private entities on multiple levels with whom Adobe had to collaborate with. This meant more resources going into a product that had slim chances of going mainstream, which Adobe realized and arrived at its decision.
Although Mike doesn’t explicitly mention the inferior performance of Flash on mobile devices, he does indicates that the multilevel collaboration is partially to blame:
While we have good relationships on all levels of this ecosystem, having to do specific work for different combinations of OS, Hardware and event components has taken a significant amount of resources. For each new device, browser and operating system released, the resources required to develop, test and maintain the Flash Player also increases.
On HTML 5 and Flash, Mike says:
The key point is this. If a Flash feature is successful, it will eventually be integrated into the browser, and developers and users will access it more and more via the browser and not Flash.
A lot of the things that you have done via Flash in the past, will increasingly be done via HTML5 and CSS3 directly in the browser.
So although Mike says that Flash for Desktop isn’t dead, and that “for the foreseeable future, Flash is particularly strong in delivering advanced video,” he himself expresses his share of skepticism over its future, or put in a more Adobe-friendly way, skepticism over the ways Flash would be used in the future.
So do you think Flash’s death is a matter of “if” or “when”?
[via Mike Chamber’s Blog]